From crisis to catastrophe
The situation in the Eastern Province is fast becoming anarchic. (Please see feature on opposite-editorial page.) The government's and the SLMC's knee-jerk reaction has been to panic and attempt some patchwork mending by appointing untrained home-guards and reserve policemen almost en masse.

But the very root of the problem stems from the unofficial message sent down to the police not to upset the fragile truce with the LTTE in order not to precipitate any violence. As a result, the police prefer to err on the side of caution and do nothing. This has given the upper-hand to the LTTE at the expense of the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils not willing to cow down to the LTTE.

The situation in the rest of the country is just as bad. The Minister for the Interior has uttered the truth - but nevertheless what a damning thing it is to say. When asked by pressmen this week, about the escalating crime rate and deteriorating policing in the country, and why policemen cannot be deployed on effective crime-busting operations, he laments saying "see what happens to policemen themselves.'' He cites incidents this week, one when a constable escorting a murder suspect in the South was ambushed and shot dead, and another when the last living witness in the Kumar Ponnambalam assassination case was assassinated, bringing two murder cases to a grinding halt.

On the other hand, what has the Minister for the Interior -- who wears a second hat as the Minister of Christian Affairs -- to say at what happened earlier this month when a Christian priest who owned some property in the Mount Lavinia Police area complained about encroachers on this bare land? He complained to the local police, but no action was taken. Next scene: He is delivering a sermon in his Church when a police party from Kelaniya turns up and takes him away right in front of his congregation, to a car dealer, and is forced to settle the dispute. No action has been taken upto this date against this high-handed action of the Kelaniya police.

In the Olitha Premathiratne police obstruction case, it took a month of Sundays before indictment was filed. In the Jayalath Jayawardene Jnr, case of assault of a policeman - it was after some hesitation that police action led to a prosecution.

The Police created a Legal Division at a time when the Attorney General took up a questionable position not to appear for police officers accused of Fundamental Rights violations. Since then, that Legal Division has become a mere post-office to channel so many other files relating to offences by policemen, and against policemen, to the over-worked, under-staffed Attorney General's Department, for necessary action. This Division needs more teeth.

The Independent Police Commission on the other hand, is yet to make an impact and a name for itself. The Minister, the IGP, and the AG are not naive to be ignorant of what's happening in the interior of this country, and the fact that we are close to anarchy in many ways. It is yesteryear's Chicago style bedlam, with drive-by shootings, and children getting shot in cross-fires, and mothers being run down at bus stops.
But all of the potentates of police and law enforcement must get together to instill some fear in both criminal elements and errant policemen.

The brave cops must be encouraged in their challenging assignments, while some confidence, yes, some confidence, must be restored to an increasingly frightened and jittery people of the North, South, East and West.

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