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17th January 1999

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    Say no to violence

    With eight days to go for the Wayamba elections, we see a situation today where most people of the province want a peaceful atmosphere for the poll but politicians of all parties have provoked or participated in more than 350 violent incidents.

    Isn't it nothing but shameful that those who make the law or those who seek office to do this are behaving in a manner that is condoned only in the underworld of gangsters.

    While those who make the law have become largely lawless, reckless, irresponsible and take the law unto their hands, The Sunday Times on its front page today spotlights a parallel monstrosity. The long arm of the law or those who are expected to be the protector and the friend of law-abiding citizens are exposed by one of their own top officers as being in collusion with the very criminals they must track down and bring to justice.

    Something indeed is terribly rotten in the State of Sri Lanka. Senior Deputy Inspector General H. M.G.B. Kotakadeniya in a disclosure that sends a chill down our spines, says police inspectors and ASPs are known to be protecting or promoting criminals to commit murder, rape, drug peddling and robbery.

    He obviously did not venture to talk of the politicians, many holding public office (then and now) working in cahoots with the gangsters of the underworld.

    In the past few days, we heard of two particularly horrible incidents. A company executive was stabbed to death by beach front criminals who robbed him and his friend. At Kandana, a school girl had her ear cut off by criminals who robbed her earrings. Every day we hear of a spate of crimes and law-abiding people say it is becoming fearfully impossible to live in this country.

    Sri Lanka appears to be slipping into the days of prohibition and the Al Capone era in Chicago of the 1930s, except that it is not prohibition here but quite the opposite. Taverns are proliferating under the political patronage and we see unlicensed bars and clubs at every street corner. These have become meeting places for gangs and underworld vice rings.

    There was a story once in Maradana where excise officers raided an unlicensed club and asked for the liquor licence. The arrogant and confident owner showed the photograph of the President of the time hanging on the wall. That was the licence, the owner said.

    Recently, the Attorney General said thousands of criminals were running loose and wild in the city alone but he had an explanation for the police.

    The Attorney General claimed that police were hampered in their action against criminals because they feared some might file fundamental rights petitions. We acknowledge the need to maintain a delicate balance between individual liberty and social responsibility or obligation. But for most policemen, it is often an excuse to indulge in filling their pockets and being part and parcel of these vice-rings

    The police often say their hands are also tied because of constant political interference with criminals being released on the demands of small or big-time politicos. That may be a reality. But if police officers do not have the conviction and the courage to act justly and according to the law, then we will have politicians running the police and criminals manipulating both ends.

    There must come a time when the policeman will have to stand up to the politician. And none other than the IGP to stand by his men and women.

    Paradoxically, it is the politician and the police those who are expected to uphold the law more than anyone else who contributed most towards a syndrome where a cycle of violence appears to have entered into our very culture.

    It is a terrible tragedy for a country that boasts of a civilisation dating back 2,500 years and of four major religions.

    The people of Wayamba need to take one small step in breaking this horrible trend. Say no to violence. Cast your ballot against the bullet and tell the politicians that they need to go back to the civilised principles of conflict resolution through dialogue and accommodation not by hitting or killing each other.


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