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MUSLIM – SINHALA RIOTS IN BERUWELA IN 1991

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DEALING WITH RACIST MOBS

EXCERPTED FROM SENIOR DIG (RETD) MERRIL GUNARATNE’S “COP IN THE CROSSFIRE”

I was Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) of the Greater Colombo Range in 1991 and overlooked the Kalutara Police Division. The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Division was Jagath Jayawardena who later retired as a DIG. Aluthgama, Paiyagala and Beruwela were also police stations within the Kalutara Division. These areas were inhabited by large numbers of Muslims.

In the latter half of 1991, a seemingly innocuous incident involving a Sinhalese and a Muslim in Beruwela gave rise to tension between the two communities. A Sinhalese was assaulted by a Muslim. There had not been any previous enmity between them. In a matter of hours, clashes between Sinhalese and Muslims began to erupt, first in Beruwela, and then in the adjoining towns, Aluthgama and Paiyagala.

Senior Superintendent of Police Kalutara called for additional manpower to handle the situation. They were sent by me from the adjoining Panadura Police Division as well as the Kelaniya Division which too came within my purview. The situation according to SSP Jayawardena as the weekend commenced had improved to a point where the regional police felt confident that normalcy could be restored within a matter of days. President Premadasa telephoned me over the weekend to clarify the situation and, based on the assessment of SSP Kalutara, I assured him that normalcy was within sight.

On Monday following the weekend when I was at work in police headquarters, Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence D.B Wijetunge telephoned and said that he had received reports that the situation in Aluthgama – Beruwela was out of control and that he had decided to despatch army troops to restore order. When I telephoned SSP Kalutara for a clarification, he informed me that there had been a sudden renewal of clashes between the two communities following an abatement of violence over the weekend. I immediately left for Kalutara, realizing that prompt and effective intervention was necessary.

I reached the bungalow of SSP Kalutara by about 2 .00 pm. and proceeded from there to the Beruwela police station with the SSP. Having arrived at the police station, I called for books and documents which had records and summaries of incidents that had taken place over about five days to study them to form my impressions. Two murders, a number of cases of arson, serious acts of violence not amounting to murder, and several cases of mischief had been reported at the Beruwela police station alone.

Similar cases had also been reported at the Paiyagala and Aluthgama police stations as well. A total of over 280 complaints had been registered at the Beruwela police station alone. A matter of significance was that in respect of about 225 of these complaints, the victims had been Muslims. I was therefore able to conclude that Sinhala elements had gone on the rampage, and that the police on duty were turning a blind eye to the excesses as happened in the 1983 communal disturbances.

I did not however disclose my impressions to SSP Kalutara. We thereafter toured Maradana, a village in Beruwela, where several incidents had taken place. The first impression I had, when I saw police on duty along the way was that their numbers were more than adequate, that they were well armed, but that most of them were in clusters and groups, and appeared sluggish and indifferent. My assessment was confirmed when we turned onto the road leading to Maradana from Colombo – Matara highway, and observed a large number of armed policemen indifferently watching a car being set on fire near a Buddhist temple. On seeing our jeep, the miscreants took to their heels, passively watched by the police.

The police group in question was under the control of an ASP who appeared disinclined to act firmly. I realized that the first requirement was to wake the police from their slumber and to emphasize the importance of invoking the Emergency Regulations firmly to deal with the lawless and the violent. Fortified with such thought, I returned to the Beruwela police station and immediately converted it into an improvised Command Centre, with SSP Jagath Jayawardena and Superintendent of Police (SP) Edward as my assistants.

We decided to stay over at Beruwela police station till order was restored. I ordered the immediate transfer of selected senior officers from Kelaniya, Gampaha and Negombo Police Divisions to Beruwela on a temporary basis to offer strong leadership to the partisan police ranks. Sectors identified as bad areas where incidents continued to occur were placed under these officers. To emphasize the seriousness and urgency of the situation and the need for concerted steps, I scheduled a conference of senior officers for 5.00 am. the following morning.

At about 11.30 pm the same night, I received a call from President Premadasa seeking a clarification of the latest situation as well as how things had taken a turn for the worse. I did not want to let down the local police, but merely assured him that peace would be restored in a short space of time.

On the following morning, I was conferring with my senior officers about the strategy I had mapped out to quell unrest when I received a phone call to say that Prime Minister D.B. Wijetunge, General S.C. Ranatunge, Secretary of Defence, General Wanasinghe, the Army Commander, and Ernest Perera, IGP, would be arriving by helicopter at the Muslim Maha Vidyalaya grounds in Beruwela at 7.00 am.

We rushed to the school grounds where a large number of Muslims had assembled. As the Prime Minister alighted from the helicopter, they in unison called for the mobilization of the army in place of the police. All of us thereafter adjourned to a classroom in the school where the Prime Minister and Secretary of Defence addressed the Muslim people who had gathered. Secretary of Defence addressing the people said that Army, Navy and Air – Force troops would arrive shortly to assist the police, and that they will work under the command of the DIG.

On being called upon to address the assembly by General Ranatunge, I assured them that I will act firmly and restore normalcy within a very short span of time. After the meeting was adjourned, I assured the Prime Minister and Secretary of Defence that peace and normalcy will be restored within 24 hours.

Upon their departure, I returned to Beruwela police station and recommenced the conference I had earlier adjourned. Army, Navy and Air Force officers who had brought troops with them too attended the conference. I assigned them sectors as well. The sectors had by then to be extended since violence had spread to Dharga Town. I realized that unless firm measures were invoked, riots would spread to Galle. Addressing the officers,

I made them understand that the reason for the escalation of violence was because a certain degree of partiality had coloured the actions of the police on duty. I said that regardless of race and creed men on duty should act firmly, employing the powers vested in them by the Emergency Regulations. I requested the officers to go back to their sectors and inform their subordinates that once the uniform was worn, police knew only two types of communities, those who obeyed the law and those who flouted it; and that if any subordinate had mistaken racial bias for patriotism, he should shed his uniform and join the miscreants.

I emphasized the need for arrests, detections and confrontations where miscreants were identified committing serious acts of violence and arson. Sector officers were called upon to announce the enforcement of a local curfew from 12.00 pm, to be lifted only for 5 hours from 7.00 am. the following day in their sectors. A conference to review the progress of the security plan was scheduled for 6.00 pm. the same day. I also requested SSP Kalutara to inform the recognized elders of the Sinhala and Muslim communities to meet me in the course of the day.

The conference concluded with the sector officers informed that if they acted firmly and decisively, peace and normalcy could be restored before the lapse of 24 hours: also that I would stand by them in their endeavours. The elders of the two communities met me thereafter in the company of Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, the political organiser of the United National Party for Beruwela. I explained to them my plan of action, and solicited their assistance to restrain the youth from resorting to violence.

Having inspired and goaded the sector officers to act positively, I did a few rounds in the area and observed that those posted on duty were alert and vigilant. On returning to my Command Centre, I gathered that a group of Sinhalese had stormed a Muslim village in Paiyagala, set fire to all the houses and inflicted injury on Muslims. The police had confronted them when they were engaged in the commission of serious acts of violence, and being unable to restrain them, had opened fire. Two of the injured had later succumbed to injury.

Reports were also received in the Command Centre that the army in their sector in Dharga Town had shot a Muslim dead in a confrontation when engaged in acts of violence. By nightfall, and as confirmed by the sector officers at the evening briefing, the situation had virtually returned to normal. On the following morning, I had the elders summoned for tea and refreshments in the church premises adjoining the Beruwela police station. Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Marker too was present.

I addressed them and explained that firm action as required by the law had been necessary because misguided youth of both communities were led by their heart, not the head, and that once they had realized that the police and the services would act firmly, sanity had returned to them. I thereafter requested the two communities to live in amity. Speakers from both communities and the Minister thanked the police and the security forces for restoring normalcy.

Thus communal unrest spread over five days and which had threatened to spread to Galle in the south and even the North Western Province, was brought under control in less than 24 hours.

POSTSCRIPT

I had opportunity to handle a few more similar experiences in my career. With the infamous racial riots in 1983, I was, as an SP, belatedly posted from police headquarters to Colombo about a week or two from the onset of riots. I was then lingering sans recognition in police headquarters, after my battles with politicos in Kelaniya and Kurunegala . The Colombo South area was assigned to me, with the rest of Colombo placed under Janaka Perera who was then a Colonel. Adopting a firm line, we restored sanity fairly quickly, despite our exertions being unfortunately required far too late.

My experience convinced me that police ranks were coloured by prejudice to a considerable extent, as was the case in Beruwela too in 1991. I think if we look at the sad saga of communal violence on our soil from about 1958, what is patently clear is that one of the reasons for delays in curbing violence was the strange inertia of the security forces, at least in the early stages. It is also my firm belief based on experience, that service and police ranks respond well to positive leadership.

Handling mobs has its own challenges. There has to be a strategy against them. I was convinced that when people gather to demonstrate and cause havoc with a communal mindset, speed and firmness are essentials to bring them to heel. The psychology of mobs has unusual characteristics. Crowds swell rapidly to transform into reckless numbers when mobs sense weakness in the security forces. The ‘heart’ then starts ruling the ‘head’. With the multiplication of numbers due to perceived weaknesses of the police, mobs become yet more violent, irrational, and reckless. When handling mobs, all efforts have therefore to concentrate on getting heads’ to think and react, rather than allow the ‘heart’ to trigger excessive emotions and violence. Speed and firmness have to characterise the response of the police.

A swift response to the emergence of racist mobs also calls for decisive political direction, good intelligence, and firm police responses. Dilatory tactics, indecision and too much of tolerance maybe fateful. All previous racial riots up to the aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage were characterized by ineptitude on the part of the police and the security forces to act decisively in the early stages. It has to be acknowledged that governments of the time too have to be blamed for failing to offer bold and unambiguous directions. I must however offer a bouquet to my ‘bete noire’, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, for being unique in making it clear to the country and the security forces in her time that she will not tolerate racist violence. I am certain that if there were such efforts, she would have nipped them in the bud without any hesitation.

There are times when negotiations work, but mostly with mobs not tainted with racism. Around 1994-5, the Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting station in Iranawila , was under perpetual siege from irate mobs, encouraged by radical Christian priests who feared that western influences would infiltrate the tranquil life of the villagers. The transports of Americans to and from the VOA were regularly stoned and attacked, causing fairly serious injuries.

DIG Gamini Randeni’s hasty response was to order the opening of fire, resulting in a miscreant being killed. He unfortunately chose to handle tension by pouring fuel to the flamess. I was then requested by the government to proceed and find a way of restoring normalcy. On my way to Chilaw, after a meeting with the American Ambassador, I pondered and made up my mind that amidst the intense hostility to the police, the only option available was negotiation and persuasion, so as to win the confidence of the ring leaders behind mobs.

I was successful in gaining the confidence of the Catholic Bishop of Chilaw, and through him, the young priests who supported the villagers. I also addressed the ringleaders of violence separately, and once confident that they were veering to my way of thinking, assembled the young priests and the community leaders together for a series of meetings and drove sense into them. Normalcy was thus restored, with the clergy and the village leaders agreeing to keep the peace. Strong arm tactics were not contemplated, but other methods were planned and held in readiness.

The lesson that emerges from these experiences is that racist mobs have to be handled differently to mobs which espouse other causes. The riots of racist mobs target life, limb and property. Police then have to confront them firmly and swiftly. But mobs which espouse popular grievances outside the pale of racism, and prefer agitations, have to be addressed differently. The adoption of negotiations would then be paramount, for in such instances, it is more important to address the grievances than use force.

Even during the tenure of office of President Premadasa, Negombo was volatile since villagers in the coastal town agitated on the streets against tourism and tourists, accusing foreigners of promoting child prostitution. I was despatched to win over the radical Catholic priests backing the agitation, and through dialogue, won them over and established a task force against vice, with the clergy and community leaders as components. Here too, the use of force would have been fatal.



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Features

Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Hair care mask

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.

Ingredients…

Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons

Method…

In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.

Ingredients…

Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons

Method…

Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Features

Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly

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I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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