‘Those who practised Wahhabism almost succeeded in achieving their dreadful objectives’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga says if the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe parted ways in the wake of the heavy defeat suffered by the yahapalana partners, the SLFP and the UNP, at the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government election, Easter Sunday carnage could have been avoided.
Continuation of the sharply divided political marriage, regardless of the consequences, created an environment conducive for those who followed Wahhabism to plan terror attacks as part of their overall strategy, MP Cumaratunga said in response to a query by The Island. The lawmaker, who also heads the Yuthukama civil society organization, said that he discussed the issue at hand during the recent debate on the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
Nearly 270 people perished in suicide attacks whereas 500 received injuries. Lawmaker Cumaratunga explained that the PCoI dealt quite comprehensively with the deterioration of national security in the wake of the 2015 change of government. The PCoI highlighted how alarming and rapid the spread of Wahhabism coincided with unprecedented irresponsible conduct on the part of the political leadership as well as the security apparatus. The country couldn’t bear such treacherous behaviour, the MP stressed, pointing out how even two years after the heinous crime the public struggled to cope up with the situation.
Yuthukama is represented in Parliament by two members, with Anupa Pasquel, who successfully contested the Kalutara district at the August 2020 general election being the other member.
Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked whether those who had brought about the 2015 change of government that paved the way for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution facilitated the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) terror project. Calling the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015 with the backing of over 200 members, a constitutional-religious bomb, the MP alleged that the much-touted political exercise was meant to weaken the Sri Lankan State. In the aftermath of the 2015 presidential election, the appointment of a minority UNP government that didn’t have at least 50 MPs in Parliament and the resultant 19th Amendment rapidly eroded political stability achieved at the previous general election, the MP said.
The Joint Opposition (now SLPP in power) too voted for the 19th Amendment with the blessings of the defeated presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. Only retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the current Public Security Minister, refused to back the 19th Amendment in spite of the then President and the SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena pushing for the JO’s undivided support.
Cumaratunga said that Local Government polls in Feb 2018 signalled the failure of the yahapalana political arrangement. Therefore, the UNP and the SLFP should have parted ways to bring political deterioration to a halt and the restoration of political stability, expeditiously.
Responding to another query, he explained how the TNA and the JVP worked overtime to save UNP leader Wickremesinghe after President Sirisena sacked the Cabinet in the last week of Oct 2018. The civil society activist recalled the TNA and the JVP throwing their combined weight behind the UNP, in Parliament, and outside, and then successfully moving court to thwart President Sirisena’s move. Had President Sirisena succeeded, the NTJ terror project could have been averted, MP Cumaratunga said. However, those who had external backing prevailed over President Sirisena’s political project thereby ensuring the continuing deterioration of national security under the yahapalana leadership until it was too late. The Yuthukama Chief said that external forces revealed their hand by sending their diplomatic representatives for high profile visits to Parliament during the conflict in the run-up to a court verdict in favour of the UNP-led grouping. How could those who had unreservedly backed the restoration of the UNP administration at the expense of much needed political stability absolve themselves of the responsibility for subsequent developments, Cumaratunga asked. The UNP-led fight back compelled President Sirisena to roll back the move to conduct a general election on Jan 5, 2019.
MP Cumaratunga, during his brief address to Parliament, last week, rapped the TNA’s stand on the Easter Sunday carnage. Having contributed to the deterioration of security, by way of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that allowed the NTJ followers to cause mayhem, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC recently called Sri Lanka a failed state on the basis of its alleged failure to protect its own citizens, the MP pointed out.
The TNA spokesperson had conveniently forgotten how he justified the the Easter Sunday massacre at an event organized at the BMICH within a week after the carnage, MP Cumaratunga said. The TNA had no qualms in speaking on behalf of Easter Sunday attackers in the presence of the then HRCSL Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama and among the audience were Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.
Acknowledging the parliamentary Opposition, namely the SJB, TNA and JVP, hadn’t been happy with the PCoI report, lawmaker Cumaratunga decried alleged attempts to propagate the new lie that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a possible hand in the Easter Sunday carnage. Alleging that politics had deteriorated to a new low, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in them rejecting the PCoI on the basis it failed to expose the Easter Sunday mastermind. Lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out the UNP appointed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), that probed the Easter Sunday attacks, failed badly in its endeavor. The MP said that those who represented the PSC and now in Parliament Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Rauff Hakeem and defeated JVP candidate Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, owed an explanation without further delay. The Yuthukama Chief emphasized that the PCoI had achieved its objectives whereas the PSC engaged in a futile exercise to whitewash certain people.
Appreciating the services rendered by the PCoI, MP Cumaratunga said that the report encompassed the alleged Easter Sunday attacker Zahran Hashim views on the terror project (page 528) and the recommendation of further investigations against the backdrop of its failure to secure credible evidence as regards a foreign hand. Referring to the PCoI comment on one-time National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmdali’s assassination in 1993, MP Cumaratunga discussed in Parliament during the adjournment debate the circumstances leading to Ranil Wickremesinghe receiving the leadership of the UNP. Faulting those who had examined Athulathmudali’s assassination through a political lens though he was assassinated by the LTTE, MP Cumaratunga questioned the way some reacted to the LTTE killing State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Cumaratunga asked what would have happened if the military and the police failed to thwart the second wave of NTJ suicide attacks and also defuse vehicle bombs, including one in close proximity to St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. The SLPP MP recollected how a driver of a vehicle used by Zahran’s gang to move a large consignment of explosives to the East helped thwart the second wave by alerting the police. Unfortunately, those who played with national security pursued an entirely different agenda, the MP alleged. Had Zahran’s followers succeeded, the presidential poll, too, could have been off indefinitely, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, underscoring the need for the thorough examination of the political strategy adopted by those who spearheaded the yahapalana project.
MP Cumaratunga also made reference to a national referendum conducted in late Dec 1982 to put off a scheduled general election by six years and Digana violence soon after the Feb 2018 Local Government polls defeat suffered by those in power to highlight what he called despicable UNP strategies.
MP Cumaratunga said that the PCoI had made several extremely important recommendations, including the defense portfolio to be under the President (page 486). The 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in Oct 2020 addressed that particular issue, the MP said. The MP pointed out further a spate of recommendations made by the PCoI to strengthen the monitoring of funds received through the banking and various other proposals such as to do away with the Proportional Representation system (changes in the electoral system) to ensure political stability.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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