Familiar war of words as Katuwana takes centrestage


Last week, when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe charged in Parliament that lawlessness reigns in the country, with all rules and regulations ignored by political authority, he was not stating anything new. Killings, threats and abductions of political opponents of the Government and others who oppose it, have been on the rise, despite the end of the Emergency in August last year.

In fact, what the UNP leader said, by way of a special statement last Tuesday to the House, was much of what he had stated on previous occasions, except for the reference to the June 16 killing of two JVP activists in Katuwana.

“Not only in Hambantota, this is the true situation all over the country,” he stated, referring to the Katuwana incident. “There is no law and justice prevalent in the country. Terror gangs reign in public in the North, South, East and West, and disappearances and abductions continue to take place,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

The UNP leader did not get the response he may have been anticipating from the Government side, to the matter he raised. Instead, House Leader and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva ended up reminding the UNP of the time when grenades were being hurled inside the Parliament building, coffins were not being allowed to be carried above knee height and other sordid details which most UNP and JVP members would rather forget.

“A special police team has been appointed to investigate the incident,” Minister de Silva said of the Katuwana incident, adding that, the culprits would be dealt with no political interference of any sort to safeguard them. Such statements will be of little comfort to the families of the victims, given the dismal performance of the police in dealing with criminals who flaunt their political affinities loud and clear.

The Government’s response was the usual diversionary tactic that it has adopted for a long time, to avoid providing proper answers to issues that call into question its inaction to deal with a serious breakdown in law and order, blatant attacks on the media or brazen indiscipline among its party members.

As expected, the Katuwana killings led to a lot of noise from the few JVP members who were in the House, which resulted in sittings having to be suspended for a few minutes.

Tempers rose, as heated verbal exchanges took place between Government and Opposition legislators over the killings, with JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake demanding justice for the slain party activists, as well as an end to the rule of the gun by thugs with affiliations to the ruling party.

The UNP Leader’s demand that the independent commissions be activated and government institutions depoliticised, as also suggested by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, because Minister de Silva said such concerns have been addressed by him in an earlier statement, and hence would not do so again.

The same week that Parliament was discussing the breakdown of law and order, it also took up the condolence vote on former MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra who was killed in a shootout between two UPFA groups in October last year.

Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera who spoke on the condolence vote, suggested that it was time for Parliament to act to stop criminals roaming around with impunity, despite having open warrants issued against them.

“Parliament must take serious notice and due consideration, the statements made by judges in courts, of criminals with open warrants, evading arrest,” he said.

He could not stop himself from reverting to the charge he often makes, that the killing of Premachandra is a continuation of the culture of killing, which is a by-product of the political culture introduced to this country by the 1978 Constitution, which also introduced a preferential voting system. What he failed to say is, why subsequent governments, in several of which Minister Gunasekera served in a ministerial capacity, did not do anything to, either abolish the voting system, or curb the post ’78 Constitution’s culture of killing.

UNP Leader Wickremesinghe said that if the Government had learnt a lesson from the killing of the former MP, some subsequent unfortunate incidents, including the recent shooting at a political rally in Katuwana, could have been averted.

Learning lessons are not a strong point of, either this Government, or of the UNP. As the well-known saying goes,” Those who ‘refuse to’ remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And repeat it they do.

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