‘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:

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - INTERVIEW - By SANDUN A JAYASEKERA

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.

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