‘Have a single law for all Sri Lankans’
The discussed the current political and economic situation of the country in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings with the General Secretary of the SLFP, former Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara. Excerpts:
President and SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Minister of both Defence and Law and Order has been blamed for failing to take timely action to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage. What is your response?
President Maithripala Sirisena has pointed out that he wasn’t ready to accept responsibility with regard to the Easter Sunday carnage though he is in charge of the Defence and Law and Order Ministries because there has been a major communication gap in disseminating information on National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and other religious extremist groups among the law enforcement agencies. After the NTJ accomplished its dastardly mission on April 21, it was revealed that DIG Nilantha Jayawardana had appraised the IGP Pujith Jayasundara and senior DIG Sisira Mendis on the impending threat. But it seems this information had not reached President Sirisena for necessary action to be taken. The IG or Secretary of Defence Hemasiri Fernando should have informed the President on this important intelligence report and instructed him to call a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) as a follow-up action, but sadly this didn’t happen.
However, I admit that the collective responsibility remains with the Government and the Opposition because the intelligence that had been gathered about Muslim fundamentalism and the acts of terrorism, stocks of explosives and the weapons detected were circulating within the security establishments and law enforcement agencies not for months, but for years. Also, don’t forget our past mistakes. If I am to give you a few examples, we did experience similar disasters during the ethnic conflict. No one knew until the LTTE attacked Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake in July 2001, when attempts were made on the lives of Sarath Fonseka in April 2006 and of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in December 2006 or the life of Chandrika Kumaratunga in December 1999. In addition to these barbaric acts of terrorism, the LTTE carried out a series of killings maiming thousands of innocent people and destroyed property worth billions of rupees. You also must keep in mind that the Cabinet isn’t under the command of the President. But President Sirisena has taken all measures possible to prevent a repetition. The raids, surveillance and detection carried out by the armed forces, the Police, the STF and the intelligence units have by now broken the backbone of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism under the leadership of President Sirisena.
Further, based on the recommendations of the interim report of the Presidential Commission that probed the Easter Sunday massacre, the Attorney General has launched a criminal probe against Pujith, Hemasiri, Sisira, DIGS Nandana and Latheef. Therefore, it is unfair to blame President Sirisena for any of the lapses related to the Easter Sunday massacre.
Antagonism between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has affected the country very badly. How do you see this?
I mustn’t hide the fact that the mutual trust and political ideological understanding that existed between the SLFP and the UNP suffered a big blow after the Central Bank bond scam. There are other misconceptions, policy issues and disagreements between the two. That’s why President Sirisena removed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and dissolved Parliament late last year; a decision which was annulled by the Supreme Court. But, the SLFP or President Sirisena doesn’t want to abdicate the responsibility for the sins and merits of the Yahapalana Government. Therefore, my belief is that the two leaders must come to an understanding to get together and offer leadership to this regime during the remaining few months. The situation has been further complicated because the SLFP doesn’t have a Cabinet or a Government under its command. At the same time UNP members as well as the SLFP must refrain from criticizing each other and aggravating the conflict. However, I believe that the UNP must take a more passive stance regarding President Sirisena because he is the Head of State.
Is there a possibility to unite the two for the sake of the country?
I hope so and pray for such unity between the two leaders because furthering this antipathy would affect the country badly. The two leaders must unite at any cost for the sake of the country. There’s no argument on that.
The exports, Direct Foreign Investments (FDI), Tourism and the overall Economy have suffered a big blow as a result of the Easter Sunday disaster. What does the SLFP propose to pull the country out of this mess?
First and foremost national security and law and order have to be restored fully, with a new vigour. Without stability and normalcy returning to the country no investor would visit Sri Lanka. Peace and security and law and order are prime requisites for the industry and exports to prosper.
Egypt, India, Indonesia, Thailand, England, Germany, France, Belgium and many other European Union countries have come under attacks carried out by jihads or ISIS during the recent past. But with the quick restoration of law and order in these countries, they have been able to minimise the ill effects on their economies. Tourists have started to revisit those countries in numbers. Sri Lanka has no option, but to follow suit. Besides, many of our friendly countries like India, China, UK, EU, Australia, Pakistan and many others have pledged the fullest support for Sri Lanka to recover from this tragedy. On the directive of President Sirisena our intelligence agencies are in touch with these countries to exchange data regarding the movements and actions of terrorists. I am glad to hear that India and Switzerland have already lifted travel advisories on Sri Lanka.
What is the SLFP’S strategy to prevent the rising of religious extremism and terrorism in the country?
The SLFP has given forewarnings during many instances in the past regarding the radicalization of Muslim youths and their possible repercussions. I feel, radicalization has been viewed as a fashion by certain groups that contributed to its free proliferation. The need of the hour to tackle this growing threat is have a single law for all Sri Lankans, dismantle religious or language based schools, establish mixed schools and make sure that no political parties are formed based on ethnicity. Marriage must be banned before adulthood. The marriageable age is 18 years for both sexes.
The SLFP has also proposed to enact a ‘Harmony Act’ to bring all ethnic and religious groups under one umbrella as one nation like in Australia and Singapore.
Face veils like the burqa, niqab, hijab and chador or whatever garment that makes it difficult to easily identify a person must be banned after consultations with Muslim leaders. Another important step that has to be taken is to introduce a legislation to restrict the number of children in a family to a maximum of three. Sri Lanka is a small country. As such our economy, culture, society and per capita income cannot support big families. Large countries like China and a smaller country like Singapore have introduced laws to prevent sharp and sudden increases in population. Our Muslim brethren must not act like Arab Muslims. Sri Lankan Muslims are well integrated into the Sri Lankan society.
How are SLFP’S preparations for the Presidential poll?
We are ready for any election. Though not declared openly by President Sirisena himself that he would contest, the SLFP’S presidential candidate would be President Sirisena for sure. The SLFP is in the process of forming a strong political alliance under the UPFA and the discussions so far with other constituent partners have been extremely successful. The SLFP has always come to power in the past after contesting elections as an alliance. This time too there cannot be any change in this stance.
But what is most important is that no party would be in a position to form a Government without our support after the next general elections. The SLFP led UPFA coalition would secure a minimum of 30 seats at the next general elections. Therefore, we will decide who is the next ruler of the country.
You have always stood for reconciliation, interfaith harmony and peace. But don’t you think certain elements are attempting to use this barbaric attack to their political advantage and delay the process of the country returning to normalcy?
I have never been a racist. In fact, I cannot be a racist as the General Secretary of the
SLFP because the SLFP is a multi-religion, multi-ethnic and multi-social party that offers a safe heaven for voters of all faiths, languages and social status. Yes, as you said, I believe there were certain anti national elements who have been active in creating ethnic unrest in many parts of the country after calm prevailed for more than two weeks following the Easter Sunday carnage. The April 21 attack was carried out with assistance from a foreign terrorist outfit, ISIS, but the attacks on Muslim trade establishments in Kurunegala, Chillaw and Gampaha had been instigated by local goons supported by local politicians who wanted to exploit the situation to their advantage by creating another blood bath. We must not forget the fact that terrorism is promoted and spread through terrorism.
How and why were Muslim trade establishments attacked after there was peace for nearly three weeks at Gampaha, Kurunegala, Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Minuwangoda, Nattandiya and elsewhere and also who were behind this violence?
During the search operations carried out by the Police, STF and armed forces, a large cache of arms, ammunition and explosives were found in various parts of the country. As a result, frightened Sinhalese urged the Police and armed forces to expand search operation in these areas including Muslim villages. These search operations should have been done discreetly and with extreme care, convincing the peaceful Muslims that searches are being done for their own safety and to identify the handful of those who support terrorism among a large majority of law abiding Muslim community.
Muslims in Sri Lanka are a God fearing, law abiding community who first arrived in the 7th century as Arab traders. They married Sinhala women and well integrated into the Sinhala community and started to profess the Islamic faith. Later on, Muslims served Sinhala kings in various professions like medicine, security, trade and imports and exports. The Kandyan Sinhala King Senarath protected Muslims from the Portuguese attacks and gave them refuge in Kandy.
The Muslim community in Sri Lanka was further strengthened with the arrival of Muslims from India in the 19th and 20th centuries. I don’t understand as to why there are no Sinhala Muslims when we have among us Sinhala and Tamil Catholics. There are also a fair number of Tamil youth who have become Buddhist monks.
What happened at Hettipola and Bingiriya on the 13th?
In fact, what happened on the 12th and 13th this month at Bingiriya, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Kuliyapitiya, Hettipola, Minuwangoda and Nattandiya was unfortunate and could have been prevented if all those involved acted responsibly. At the same time I would like to tell you that I was able to prevent a blood bath at Bingiriya and Hettipola due to timely action. However, I have no doubt that there were political opportunists behind the attacks on Muslim trade establishments.
On the 12th afternoon, four Sinhala youth unleashed an unprovoked attack on two Muslim boutiques in Kuliyapitiya. The Kuliyapitiya Police arrested them and there was a gathering of people near the Police station demanding their release. The police under pressure granted the four youth Police bail. But on the same night there were attacks on Muslim trade establishments at Kiniya in the Bingiriya electorate and Police arrested 12 Sinhalese. As there were no sufficient manpower and space in the Police cell, the Bingiriya Police transferred 6 out of 12 detainees to Hettipola Police Station. The people who had been gathered in numbers started to protest for the transfer of arrested men and staged a big scene in front of the Bingiriya Police Station demanding the release of all 12 men immediately. They also questioned the transfer of 6 detainees to Hettipola. I must remind you that there are no Sinhala or Muslim trade stalls near Bingiriya Police station, but there are a few near the Hettipola Police. The situation was extremely tense and hotting up.
The people who had assembled near the Bingiriya Police were visibly intoxicated as liquor shops had been opened. Muslims were frightened and helpless. Some of them rang me up at home – a few hundred metres away from the Bingiriya Police – and I rushed to the scene around 12.30 in the afternoon. When I went there I saw Namal Kumara giving a lecture to the agitated crowd and I chased him away. In the meantime I spoke to the Army commander of the area, DIG, District Secretary, Divisional Secretary, OICS of Bingiriya and Hetipola Police to calm and disperse the crowd. Before the Army, STF and the police acted there were attacks at Kottampitiya and Hettipola and a few other places on Muslim trade stalls and mosques. I asked the DIG whether he could release the 12 people under police bail if I brought the six men from Hettipola to Bingiriya and he said ‘yes’. The Police jeep of the Hettipola Police did not have space to accommodate all six men and I took four of them in my vehicle still managed to drive to Bingiriya Police under an armed police guard thus preventing a disaster. There were only about 75 policemen at the Hettipola station and 60 out them had been deployed on routine duties. At the Police station there were only about 15 personnel to deal with the station, detainees and the armoury. If attacked by hundreds of people, the detainees were taken out and the armoury was broken into, the situation would have led to a major bloodbath. I prevented it by bringing the six youth, arrested, to Bingiriiya from Hettipola and assisted the police, the armed forces and the STF to bring the situation under control and disperse the agitated crowd, thus preventing a disaster.
But what is most important is that no party would be in a position to form a Government without our support after the next general elections
I mustn’t hide the fact that the mutual trust and political ideological understanding that existed between the SLFP and the UNP suffered a big blow after the Central Bank bond scam
I feel, the radicalization has been viewed as a fashion by certain groups that contributed to its free proliferation. Marriage must be banned before adulthood
The Muslim community in Sri Lanka was further strengthened with the arrival of Muslims from India in the 19th and 20th centuries Another important step that has to be taken is to introduce legislation to restrict the number of children in a family to a maximum of three The need of the hour to tackle this growing threat is a single law for all Sri Lankans, dismantle religious or language based schools, create mixed schools and not allow political parties to be formed on ethnicity. The SLFP has proposed to enact a ‘Harmony Act’ to bring all ethnic and religious groups under one umbrella or one nation like in Australia and Singapore. Our Muslim brethren must not act like Arab Muslims. Sri Lankan Muslims have integrated well into the Sri Lankan society. The SLFP led UPFA coalition would secure a minimum of 30 seats at the next general elections. Therefore, we will decide who would be the next ruler of the country.