Improvised white flags hang along the streets where last week’s dead once lived.  Families grieve for fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who only a week before brought joy and laughter to their homes. Now they have nothing but tears to offer. The nation mourns for its people snatched away on the [...]


Death strikes on the holiest day


Improvised white flags hang along the streets where last week’s dead once lived.  Families grieve for fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who only a week before brought joy and laughter to their homes. Now they have nothing but tears to offer.

The nation mourns for its people snatched away on the holiest day on the Christian calendar. Last week mass burials marked the end of their journey as the country bowed its head in three minutes of silence for those who were killed two days before in an act of infamy. Who should share the blame for this act of shame is a question that is being persistently asked by the people who live.

As I write the death toll has been revised downward to slightly over 250 while some others lie wounded. The dead and the wounded are not all Sri Lankan. In nations across the world families and relatives are grieving for their loved ones lost on that day of madness.

The government and its leaders might try to provide answers for their failure to protect the people. But could they answer for those who were beckoned to this land like no other with glorified scenes of a new Eden, only to die?

This is not the worst single disaster that Sri Lanka has faced. Forty thousand or so people died in the December 2004 tsunami. But that was a natural phenomenon over which Sri Lanka had little control.

The Easter catastrophe was man-made, orchestrated and engineered by a group of religious fanatics in Sri Lanka and abroad, used as a single instrument of death.

The difference is that while little could have been done to mitigate the worst effects of the tsunami even if the authorities had very early information of the impending disaster, Sri Lanka’s law and order authorities were well-aware of the possible terrorist attacks. Indian intelligence began feeding Sri Lankan counterparts with the original snippets and later detailed ‘intel’ starting months back.

While Sri Lanka continues to be on high alert for more terrorist attacks and braced for possible retaliatory violence against innocent local Muslims one should not lose sight of our failure to act on information received and ask, as it is being asked right now by an angry and emotionally distraught public, why it was allowed to happen.

It is easy to point the finger of accusation at officials. It is right they should be severely castigated for treating intelligence received from a neighbouring country so cavalierly. Hemasiri Fernando, defence secretary until his resignation last week was quoted as saying they did not expect an attack of such “magnitude”. What did they expect? Firecrackers to be thrown at congregations!

Mr Fernando should have been asked, if it has not already been done, who it is that decided to take the information that was sent to them on April 4th and then again on April 9th and 11th so lightly that they did not consider it necessary to alert the country’s political leaders.

If churches were to be targeted why was not the Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit not privy to such information as he could have acted to even cancel Sunday services, as he has mentioned?

Who are the masterminds besides Fernando who came to such a weighty conclusion while heaps of ‘intel’ from foreign sources were staring them in the face yet concluded this not important enough to pass on to the country’s leadership.

Of course, the highest in the land was sojourning in Singapore and did not seem to have thought, like his officials, bombs exploding and killing people in churches and hotels, sufficient cause to return immediately to the country though he was both defence minister and minister of law and order, the latter portfolio he had grabbed under dubious circumstances.

If these are the officials — well one has mercifully fallen on his sword, belated though it was — on whom this country depends to keep it safe from violent extremists of different religious and ideological persuasions, then the sooner the officials and their political masters committed hara kiri, the safer the people would feel.

While the country is trying to recover from last Sunday’s tragedy the wider public is beginning to raise vital questions from their political leadership that has turned its promise of yahapalanaya to nopalanaya and betrayed the people who voted it to power.

As the public well know, some of our politicians and a clutch of officials are more accustomed to pocketing the buck than passing it.

But when ‘lightning’ strikes and crisis confronts the country they are the first to pass the buck and wash their hands of responsibility. That should not be allowed to happen especially by those who are at the top of the leadership pole. They are eager to grab power once more while four years ago they were so ready to repudiate a long stay at the top and urged that the presidency be abolished.

Last Monday Sky News which was trying to rush a team down to Colombo invited me to its studios for a discussion. Unfortunately I could not make due to a leg injury. But I suspect that some of the questions those journalists were keen to ask were what Sri Lankans at home and abroad have been asking for months and years and are repeating more stridently today.

I have been peppered with questions by persons of Sri Lankan origin and foreigners. Some of the Sri Lankans do not live in the UK but abroad elsewhere.  But their anger and anguish are as genuine as that shown by those at home who seem increasingly disgusted at the political manouevring, the jostling for power by all sides while the coalition government continues its infighting at unbelievable cost to the country.

A plague on all your houses would be their curse with a slight twist to Shakespeares’ words at the sight of crime and corruption spread like some dangerous infection.

Not surprisingly most of the questions concern the President as head of state and the minister in charge of defence and law and order. My attention was drawn to the President’s claim that he did not know of the Indian security alerts sent to Sri Lanka before the bombers’ struck.

So when did the President first know? Is it only after the bomb blasts on Sunday morning? Who informed him and when? If he knew on Sunday or before it happened why did he wait till Monday night to return to Colombo when Singapore is only a few hours away and flights are available as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka mentioned in Parliament.

Only Sirisena’s closest circle would have answers to that, specifically to the question whether the President thought spending another day in Singapore was more important than taking command at home as defence and law and order minister as it was his responsibility?

I was asked to roll back news reports and note how many times Sirisena has said “I did not know of it”, “nobody told me”, “I read it in the newspaper” when questioned about some developments. If his officials do not keep him informed should he not have got rid of them long time ago which he can do even now.

Since this crisis in Sri Lanka, foreign government and the international media are wondering, we are told, how a country can function when its own President wallows in ignorance of critical matters of state.

But this is not all. At a sitting of Parliament last week Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he is not invited to meetings of the National Security Council, the highest decision-making body on state security.

State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene was to add that the prime minister and he have not been invited to the NSC since October last and the Indian alerts not passed on to them.

This surely is a strange situation. The prime minister and state defence minister are being excluded from important discussions and denied what could be vital information. But it seems their exclusion has happened since October last when President Sirisena’s attempted political/constitutional coup backfired and he ended up with egg all over his face.

This is not all. Sarath Fonseka said in Parliament that an opposition MP dealing with horse racing is attending Security Council meetings. The finger seems to point to Thilanga Sumathipala, who has no official position that permits him to be present at NSC meetings except by invitation from somebody.

If true these are surely extraordinary happenings for which the public would expect answers, and immediately, too, from the President. For if Sumathipala has attended highly confidential meetings then the responsibility lies with Sirisena.

Just the other day Ukraine elected a professional comedian to lead the country. How nice. He will surely want some company.

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