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There was reason why Shangri-La was attacked twice during Easter Sunday carnage – Dayasiri

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a reason why two suicide bombers had attacked the Shangri-La Hotel but the Taj Hotel had been spared, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, on Tuesday night, told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

External powers had played a role in electing Sri Lankan Presidents and governments since 2015, Jayasekera said. The witness said it must be found out who wanted to remove former President Maithripala Sirisena from power.

The State Minister had been summoned to the PCoI to give evidence about the anti-Muslim riots in Hettipola following the Easter Sunday Attacks. On May 13, 2019, there was unrest in Hettipola, after six youth, arrested over involvement in attacking Muslim-owned properties and mosques in Kiniyama, were brought to the Hettipola Police Station from Bingiriya. When a crowd surrounded the Hettipola Police Station, Jayasekera, who lived close by arrived at the scene and took the youth back to Bingiriya Police Station after the police, civil administrators and community leaders of the area agreed that releasing the six youth on police bail was the best course of action.

Jayasekera: “This incident happened on my public day. Some people came and told me that there was unrest in the town. So I went to the Hettipola Police Station by 12 noon. The OIC told me that there were six youth sent from the Bingiriya Police Station. The OIC also said that during a meeting, it had been agreed to release them. I was told that then State Minister Nalin Bandara too had agreed to the decision. He said that they had to take the youth back to Bingiriya but it was impossible to do so because of the crowd that had gathered outside. I also felt that we needed to get these suspects out of the town. So I spoke to people, got the six people in my vehicle and went to Bingiriya with police protection.”

Chairman of the PCoI: “You are also a lawyer. Should politicians influence how people are arrested or released?”

Jayasekera: “No! I had no involvement in securing their release.”

Chairman of the PCoI: “After the attacks, you said that Taj Hotel in Colombo had not been attacked because some people were staying there. Can you elaborate on that?”

Jayasekera: “Taj is owned by a businessman that belongs to a particular country. A suicide bomber came and left without blowing himself up. There is a reason why there were two attacks on Shangri La hotel and none on Taj. There were also reports that during the time of the attacks, some VIPs were at Taj. That’s why I said that.”

The Chairman of the PCoI then asked Jayasekera why he had said that NTJ leader Zahran Hashim had international links. The witness said that it was the first time that the ‘leader’ of a terrorist group had taken part in the first wave of attacks and died.

“Why would a leader die in the first wave unless there was some good reason? Because of the attacks, President Sirisena could not seek a second term. There may have been some issues concerning Sirisena’s presidency, but he was trying his best to eliminate the drug mafia. The terrorists attacks marked the end of the country’s war on drugs. Now, former IGP, Pujith Jayasundara says the warnings of the attack came from a foreign intelligence source. So, this external intelligence agency knew when the attacks would happen. To be honest Presidents and governments have been brought into power in Sri Lanka by external powers from 2015. In a way Zahran too was a victim, Maithripala and Ranil Wickremesinghe too are victims. Jayasundara and Former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando too are victims,” Jayasekera said.

The PCoI Chairman asked Jayasekera whether the former government had remained on national security in a satisfactory manner. Jayasekera too was a Cabinet Minister in the yahapalana government between 2015 and 2018.

The witness said that there had been many disagreements within the government. Sirisena was not at all happy with cosponsoring a resolution in Geneva in 2015, he said.

“These disagreements affected national security. I wouldn’t say that national security was neglected but it surely was affected by the internal disagreements,” MP Jayasekera said.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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