Political Patronage For Armed Goon Squads?

Hambantota is claimed to be an ‘emerging hub’ of various sorts – shipping, aviation, tourism, industrialisation, cultural and international sports of various kinds. An unfortunate feature appears to be that in recent years it is emerging to be an epicentre of domestic political crime.

A harbinger to this regrettable development was on the eve of the presidential election in 2010 which Mahinda Rajapaksa won where a bus carrying UNP supporters was shot at and a woman passenger was killed. Even though the police promised immediate investigations, the public has yet to hear about the outcome of such an investigation.

With the Rajapaksa regime giving indications that some Provincial Councils are to be dissolved in the near future – before the expiry of their life time – the indiscriminate spraying of T-56 ammunition on a peaceful assembly at a JVP meeting at  Katuwana near Hambantota by a gang of goons on motorcycles killing a woman and a youth raises the question whether this is the curtain raiser for the scheduled Provincial Council elections.

Criminals unless they are out of their minds do not attack political audiences for kicks. They would do so if they are hired for the purpose. Also who would want a JVP crowd gunned down unless they fear JVP politics? The fact that the shooting was done indiscriminately indicates that there was no personal animus on the part of the criminals. The inevitable conclusion is that it was a message to the JVP: keep off Hambantota. Deputy Leader of the UNP Karu Jayasuriya in his statement of condemnation of the incident said it was a warning to all political parties.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake a JVP  parliamentarian in a statement issued, alleged that the assailants enjoyed the patronage of the ‘top brass of the government’. Killer squads have been deployed ‘to achieve the needs of those having their political homeland in Hambantota,’ he had said noting that no ordinary person ‘could have moved freely and committed crimes in this manner in this [Hambantota] area’. Vijitha Herath, another JVPer in a newspaper article said that the two killed at Katuwana – Malanee Edirimanage and Samanthe Heshan – were two innocent civilians. The only wrong they did was to have attended a meeting of a political party that was not in the ruling alliance. The message of the thugs was: ‘No one will be allowed to engage in politics against the government in the president’s village and no one should attempt to do so’.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and his siblings should not be under the delusion that Hambantota is the fiefdom of the Rajapaksas. It is also the homeland of tens of thousands of sturdy independent peasants and fishermen. Rohana Wijeweera who attempted to stage two revolutions – albeit unsuccessfully – had the ancestors of present day SLFPers and even current heroes under their beds. Young Sajith Premadasa who has established his homeland in Hambantota too has been able to win his seat convincingly despite all odds. What is most striking about the Katuwana killings is the reaction of the government and the police to the incident. The JVP states that even before a complaint was made, the so called Director General of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, had told the media that the murders were committed by a splinter group of the JVP. Hulugalle was attempting to defend the government even before any police investigations commenced, the JVP pointed out.

Hulugalle may be having reasons for his loyalty to the Rajapaksa regime but he should realise that in the business of mass communications you cannot save anyone through barefaced lying. The truth will finally out. When the JVP challenged him on his allegations he had insisted that his information was based on reliable sources. We do hope he will be questioned in a court of law about his sources just as the former Attorney General Mohan Peiris was questioned  on his statement about the whereabouts of journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda and was unable to provide a convincing reply.

The attitude of the IGP N. K. Ilangakoon was equally baffling with him maintaining that (till the suspect Julampitiye Amare surrendered to court) even though the suspect’s name was mentioned in a statement recorded by the police as the one who led the assault, more evidence was required to prove that he committed the crime. This liberal and indulgent attitude towards suspects of criminal offences is indeed surprising considering the history of the Sri Lanka Police in arresting and interrogating suspects. It is commendable that if indeed such a judicial attitude is adopted instead of the police being accused of using third degree methods. But this patronising attitude appears to be confined to those involved in political crimes such as some of the suspects involved in the killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra in Kolonnawa and now in Katuwana.

In the earlier case the Magistrate had to order the arrest of ruling party parliamentarian Duminda Silva but the police has still not carried out the order.

Following the wide publicity given to the Katuwana shooting where Julampitiye Amare was named by the JVP as the person  who led the attack, the suspect surrendered to  the Tangalle High Court – not for the Katuwana killings but because he was wanted  to answer charges for a killing in Middeniya in 2003! The High Court Judge Chandrasena Rajapakse on Tuesday disclosed to court that he had come to know that Julampitiye Amare  had more than 100 warrants for his arrests  issued by Courts of law and had even visited an inmate of the Tangalle prison last week. A prison officer had opened the gate for him, the Judge had said.

The public is entitled to know how a man with such a criminal record had been able to roam the Hambantota area freely and why such an indulgent attitude  was taken towards him by the police. Even though he was identified as the leader of the goons that shot at the JVP meeting and with a criminal record of over 100 arrest warrants on him, the reluctance of the police chief to arrest him earlier is inexplicable. The High Court Judge had said that although he had ordered the arrest of Julampitiye Amare the police had not arrested him.

The tolerance extended to this criminal smacks of political patronage at the highest level.

There has been a public outcry during the past two years on the steady breakdown of law and order. President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Minister of Defence and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa the Defence Secretary – who appears to have assumed much more power than  that of a Ministry Secretary – are answerable for this pathetic situation. It is incumbent on them to see that the lawlessness witnessed at Katuwana does not spread if the said Provincial Council elections are to be held soon.

The Rajapaksa regime has not been as indulgent  with demonstrators participating in democratic and legal protests. A young demonstrator Roshain Shanaka was shot dead when he participated in a protest against attempts to tamper with workers’ EPF. A JVP spokesman has pointed out that Commission headed by a retired judge was appointed to investigate the killing but  to date nothing had been heard of the report. In Chilaw a fisherman Anton Fernando was shot dead while demonstrating against the fuel price hike. Another fisherman who had been injured in the Chilaw shooting had lost his leg following the injuries sustained and on June 15 committed suicide because he was no longer able to support his family. News reports said that the man was heart broken because his son was compelled to give up his education and taken to fishing to support the family. The Rajapaksa regime is blackened internationally for violation of human rights and a free reign extended to political goons are bound to make matters worse.

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