Black Easter

Friday, 26 April 2019 00:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 A man carries a wooden cross for a funeral near St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade – Pic by Chamila Karunarathne

To Sri Lankan Christians, Easter this year was a day of God where demons reigned. It can be considered an unfortunate day in which the country was plunged again into the uncivilised wretchedness that prevailed in the country during the violent conflicts and the internal civil war. 

The number of people killed by these ruthless suicide attacks is over 350 while the number injured exceeds 500. Though the attack had been launched by a group of extremist Muslim youths in Sri Lanka, the master plan behind the attack can be treated as one designed by an extremist international terrorist group. Muslims of Sri Lanka did not have a conflict with Catholics, but the day selected for the attack had been a major religious day of Christians while its target was the Catholic community. 

This attack is similar to previous attacks launched against a number of Catholic Churches in Lahore, Pakistan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017 on Easter Sunday. Apparently, the object of the international Muslim organisation that was behind this attack might have been to launch a bigger attack in retaliation to the attack of two Muslim mosques in New Zealand by an Australian on 15 March. 

It appears that they have identified Sri Lanka as an easy target to carry out their ghastly plan without hindrance. 

Sri Lanka had not made any attempt to prevent this attack or at least to minimise the damage when Indian intelligence agencies had repeatedly warned Sri Lankan intelligence services that there was a possible plan to attack Catholic Churches and tourist hotels in Sri Lanka.

 The extent of deterioration of Sri Lanka State and its political system can be understood from this. This can be considered the most massive destruction that has taken place in one single day in Sri Lanka. Yet, not even a mark of woe or remorse was to be seen in the faces of political leaders of the country. 

How will the Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka react to this tragic incident? The damage caused to Catholics is enormous. Will they be able to motivate the Catholic community to bear the brunt of this great catastrophe and remain calm without resorting to react with anger and hatred towards Muslims in Sri Lanka, the way they have endured the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ? If they will be able to do so it will certainly be a great example for other religions and an enormous contribution for promoting ethnic and religious harmony in Sri Lanka. 

Religious extremism

Religious extremism is not necessarily restricted to one religion; it can originate in association with any religion. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by an extremist Hindu youth. All Hindus cannot be considered Hindu extremists because of his ruthless act. 

Terrorism is not a phenomenon that occurs in isolation like something falling from sky. It is a specific situation developed by the impact of social, economic and political factors. A ruthless terrorist movement sprang up from Sinhala society. Several similar movements sprang up from Tamil society. 

The active participation of a certain section of Muslim youths in the attacks launched on Easter Sunday indicates that even to a lesser scale, a terrorist movement has already originated in the Muslim society as well. 

Deprivation of Tamils of reasonable right to use Tamil language and ruthless incidents like black July ’83 caused to lead Tamil youths to a terrorist path. It appears that certain ruthless attacks aimed at Muslim community from time to time, following the victory of the internal civil war against the LTTE, have led the Muslim youth to view the situation from an angle of religious extremism. Their involvement in suicide attacks itself is clear evidence of the extent of their hatred.

The terrorism that sprang up in Sinhala society didn’t do any good to the country or to Sinhala society, except for causing great destruction and devastation. It is the same that can be said about Tamil terrorism. This fact must be clearly understood by Muslim society as well.

 The cancer that had surfaced must be destroyed and removed without letting it to grow. Otherwise, it will be unavoidable that the Muslim society of Sri Lanka will be compelled to pay a bigger price for that. 

The State and rebellions 

The State must have advanced intelligence services capable of apprehending the advent of a rebellion in advance, long before it bursts out. It should also possess the ability to contain and defeat a rebellion when it breaks out, without letting it be protracted. But, the State of Sri Lanka not only failed to foresee the Sinhala and Tamil rebellions well in advance, but also lacked the ability to contain and defeat them forthwith. The second JVP insurrection was defeated only when it had reached a stage of almost imminent victory. The LTTE rebellion was defeated only after it had sustained itself for nearly 29 years. 

Though the State was able to defeat both these rebellions, they caused great damage to the State. Following the defeat of the internal civil war, though late, no attempt has been made to heal the wounds of war except for celebrating the victory. It resulted in the festering of wounds of war, eventually plunging the State into a stinking morass of degeneration.

The terrorist organisation that launched bomb attacks on Easter Sunday was able to cause such great damage because the State had lost the efficiency of its intelligence services to a greater extent in the sphere of State security following the general degeneration of the State. 

The degeneration of the State can be considered to have commenced during the time of violent conflicts and developed persistently. The factors that had led to this situation are wide and varied. Erosion of legal traditions and politicisation are foremost among them. 

Sri Lanka can be considered the only country in which a considerable number of leaders had been killed owing to political conflicts. Though the names of all those who were killed have been credited to the accounts of JVP and the LTTE, it appears that killings of some leaders were committed by a third group. The killings of Lalith Athulathmudali and President Ranasinghe Premadasa stand out among the assassinations which have raised reasonable suspicion.

Mysterious assassinations 

It is not difficult to understand that the story of Ragunadan, who was identified as the assassin of Lalith Athulathmudali, was a fabricated narrative. Though the search teams had combed the site of the crime and the surrounding area in search of the assassin soon after the assassination, it was only around 11 a.m. on the following day that the body of the assassin was discovered at Mugalan Road. Even the Inspector General of Police Ernest Porutota admitted that the National Identity Card (NID) found in possession of Ragunadan who was dead was a false one.

The person who happened to be nearby the assassin when this killing took place was known to me for a long time. He had stood closer to the assassin when the assassination was taking place. He too went to see the dead body of Ragunadan found on Mugalan Road. He was firm that it was not the body of the assassin whom he had witnessed. Later, he identified Wellampitiye Sudumahattaya who had been apprehended by the Lalith Athulathmudali Commission as the real assassin of Athulathmudali. Some friends of Sudumahattaya knew that he was the real culprit who fired at Lalith Athulathmudali, long before the commission was appointed to inquire into the assassination. I came to know from a friend of his that he was repenting the crime that he had committed. 

The cleaning of the site of the blast soon after the assassination of Premadasa without leaving any clue for further investigations which is contrary to the standard Police practice of cordoning off the area after a crime remains an unsolved puzzle, a controversy. Even the story of Babu was nothing more than a story fabricated and socialised by Amarasena Rajapakse, the Deputy Inspector General of Police. 

While the Criminal Investigations Department blamed the CDB for cleaning of the site of the blast, the latter said they only followed ‘orders from the top’, so as to avert a major disaster, presumably communal violence. How can we describe a country which does not conduct a formal investigation even when a leader of the first rank, in this case the president of the country, has been assassinated?

The brutal practice of committing crimes by using the officers of security forces or police had not stopped even at that time. Instead, a tradition in which influential politicians employing the officers of security forces or police who were close to them to execute crimes at their discretion had developed. Further, a tradition of conducting criminal investigations to suit the aspirations of powerful politicians by the crime investigators who were loyal to them too had developed. 

It could be proved that Show Wickramasinha, the Chief of Criminal Investigation Unit who was in charge of the investigations into the assassinations of Rohana Kumara, the Editor of the Satana newspaper, and Kumar Ponnambalam tried not to disclose the true assassins of these cases. I have probed into these two assassinations. On one occasion, he had crashed into his office with three other journalists and made a statement to the media; we were able to prove that the interpretation he gave to media was false. 

Both these assassinations had been committed on account of the need of the presidential palace. Necessary guidelines for both assassinations had been given by Baddagana Sanjeewa, a notorious criminal who had been closely associated with the presidential palace.

Kumar Ponnambalam was assassinated by Moratuwa Saman who was considered to be a notable criminal at that time, assisted by one other person. Moratuwa Saman knew that I was probing into these two incidents. My linking his name to the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam came under great protest by Moratuwa Saman. He wanted to meet me and through the intervention of a third party I got an opportunity to have a long discussion with him. 

During this discussion he came out with an interesting story. He said he had once come to the front of my house in Galle to assassinate me but had changed his mind and turned back due to a sudden transformation that occurred in him. To make sure whether he was telling a truth, I asked him about the directions to my house, particularly about the side lane leading to my house. To my surprise, he made an accurate description. 

I questioned him on whose request he had come to kill me. But he didn’t give a reply. When asked what had caused to change his mind and abandon the idea of killing me, he said it was caused by a sudden change of mind that came on him. He said reassuringly that he was not responsible for the killing of Kumar Ponnambalam, but I did not believe it. I knew for sure that he was the assassin. 

Thereafter, on one other occasion, he wanted to meet me. But it didn’t take place as it was not possible for me to meet him on that day. Several days later, I heard that he had met the President’s Counsel Daya Perera and made a comprehensive confession about the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam. A few days after this incident, Moratuwa Saman too was assassinated. 

Interesting stories 

When the news of the assassination of Moratuwa Saman appeared in newspapers, a chemical engineer known to me phoned me and told me an interesting story. The wife of the Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, having come to know of the death of Saman Kumara, had called him and said that from that day onwards she could live without fear.

When he had asked him more details about her problem, she had said that a person carrying a knife had sprung at her one day when she was walking on the road all alone, and she had been able to save her life because the people around came to her rescue; and later she had been able to recognise him as Moratuwa Saman and thereafter, she had lived in exile in constant fear of death.

Later, she had come to know that he had attempted to kill her with the knowledge of Sarath Nanda Silva; and as Moratuwa Saman is no more, she had told him that she could now live freely and without fear. 

The extent of affiliations developed between politicians and criminals during the second JVP insurrection can be realised from this incident. The noted criminals of the country, who had come into contact with politicians, possessed the power to influence any sphere of the Government machinery. Most of the noted criminal elements had become close associates of political leaders and their reliable confidants.

The second interesting story I am going to relate here is one that really impressed me as being a credible story. It is an exciting statement made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with a team of high-ranking Customs officers which he had convened after ending the war against the LTTE. To the amazement of the Customs officers, the President had told them that he was aware that the LTTE, in addition to clandestine procurement of arms through sea routes, had also received them in container loads via Customs with the connivance of some high-ranking Customs officers and that he would not allow such things to happen in the future. 

The following is another example that could be cited to prove the extent of deterioration of the State. 

In an investigation conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department on a female suicide bomber taken into custody, employed by the LTTE to assassinate Douglas Devananda, it was revealed that a certain number of National Identity Cards (I do not remember the exact number now) had been issued to the LTTE including that of the above suspect by the head of the Department of Registration of Persons himself. The Criminal Investigation Department wanted to arrest this person and he had been asked to call over at the CID on a specific date. In this backdrop, the head of the Department of Registration of Persons evaded the arrest by obtaining an injunction order preventing him from being arrested using close contacts he had with Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva. 

The Criminal Investigations Department was able to disclose that the ID used by the female suicide bomber employed by the LTTE to assassinate General Sarath Fonseka too was one of the IDs issued to the LTTE by the head of the Department of Registration of Persons. Even though this officer was removed from his post, he has not been punished for the heinous offences he had committed. 

In my opinion, it was by the strength of money and not military strength that the LTTE, in its war operations, was able to capture certain military camps. It fulfilled its ambitions by giving big ransoms to selecteds officer in the camps. 

The State Intelligence Services 

It appears that the State Intelligence Services are working in close alliance with the political authorities, ignoring their responsibilities. It is not possible to understand why the State Intelligence Services are interested in assessing public opinion during election times. How could it be useful for the Intelligence Services to know about who would win or lose elections? Their first and foremost interest should be on issues of national security, but the State Intelligence Services seem to be engaged in areas which do not come under their purview to please the political authorities. 

There are serious allegations made against some officers of State Intelligence Services (SIS) pursuant to the investigations conducted on crimes committed during the previous regime. Some politicians maintain that these investigations against the officers of SIS have led to weaken the State Intelligence Services.

 How can a policy aimed at safeguarding certain officers of intelligence services who are alleged to have committed heinous crimes at the instigation of political authorities to fulfil their parochial needs and abducted people for obtaining ransoms, ignoring their national responsibilities, be considered justifiable or reasonable regardless of the service they had rendered?

It is evident that not only one section but almost all sections of the State have deteriorated to the highest possible degree. How can the country move forward without making a deep structural change in this system? What the country needs at the moment is a complete transformation of the political system more than anything else. 

The State is in a dreadful situation which can no longer be put right with simple reforms; it requires a complete transformation of the entire system. But what the political leaders want is to continue this degenerated system. The inevitable result would be the complete collapse of the entire system. 

Doesn’t the Easter Sunday tragedy display the abysmal level of degeneration of the State which has rendered it incompetent in performing its expected duties? Had there been an efficient State, this catastrophe would probably have been averted. Would at least this devastation bring the politicians of the country to their proper senses to act urgently to bring the country out of the present morass?