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Sunday May 19th, 2024

Anger, suspicion prevail as Sri Lanka Catholics mark fifth year of Easter attack

MOURNING FOR EASTER VICTIMS – Worshippers at St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya on July 1st when the Church reopened after the Easter bombings/Pathum Dhananajana EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – Five years after Sri Lanka’s worst ever attack on churches, the island nation’s ethnic minority Catholics are still struggling for justice and find the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday carnage that killed at least 269 people in 2019.

The attack was carried out by local Islamist militants, but the investigations have failed to find the reason for the attack and who was behind local Islamist suicide bombers.

Successive governments have promised independent probes into the attack, but nothing was done.

And still key political parties use the Easter attack probe as their election promise.

A parliament fact finding panel, a presidential commission of inquiry, and police investigations have found crucial facts related to the attack and those who are involved in the crime.

However, Catholic leaders say no justice have been served for the innocent followers who were killed brutally when they were on prayers.

“I remember, a day after receiving the presidential commission report, (former president) Gotabaya Rajapaksa called me and told he cannot implement the recommendations because it will lead to arrest some leaders who are close to him and ban some organization,” Sri Lanka’s Catholic leader Cardinal Malcom Ranjith told at the commemoration event on Sunday.

“It is sad to note the actions by president (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) to sabotage the investigations by removing the investigators from the posts – one official was arrested, and others were transferred to far areas and appointing his allies to investigate it and manipulate it as he wanted.”

He said both former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and current leader Ranil Wickremesinghe did not even acknowledge a letter by the Catholic clergies requesting an independent investigation.

“From all these actions, we have a suspicion over one thing. Both former government and this government are trying to cover up the truth and protect some people and organizations involved with this (Easter attack).”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied any involvement in the attack, which later led to anti-Muslim riots in some parts of the country.

NEW FACTS IN PARLIAMENT THIS WEEK?

The island nation’s parliament has already discussed and debated about the Easter attack for 11 days.

With the new topics and former president Maithripala Sirisena’s recent claim that he knew the master mind following a statement to the police criminal investigation unit, the parliament has scheduled another three-day debate the attack this week.

Sirisena has given a statement at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on the Easter Sunday on March 25 after he was called by the police for questioning. Government sources have said Sirisena has accused India of having a hand in the attack.

India is yet to make an official statement on Sirisena’s allegation as he has recorded his statement in a confidential manner.

Sirisena, who was asked by the country’s Supreme Court to pay 100 million Sri Lanka rupees for the Easter attack victims for his failure to prevent the carnage, is a legislator now and has been leading center-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

It is still not immediately clear if Sirisena has strong evidence for his latest claim.

Investigations into the attack have revealed there had been serious lapses in intelligence where law implementing agency neglected a series of warning by Indian intelligence agency.

Despite an in-depth probe by the local authorities, the investigators failed to identify the real motive and the mastermind of the attack so far.

Last week, Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, the spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Colombo, on Friday (19) said there were eight questions that were unanswered by the authorities, disclosing some new facts in the investigations.

He questioned a range of issues including what he called as covered up murders of two police officials in November 2018, suspicion over the involvement of military intelligence in that cover up, and some other communications with the terror leader Zahran Hashim.

He also asked the mysterious handling of the final suicide bomber who was supposed to attack Taj Hotel, role of a key military leader who was close to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the role of a foreign handler, possibly from India.

Father Fernando was asked to make a statement by the Police Criminal Investigation Department last week over the information they he had got on the attack.

ELUSIVE JUSTICE

We have said what we knew more than enough, but we don’t understand if there had been investigations over those,” Father Fernando told reporters after making the statement to the CID.

“Even now, I don’t know if what we say would be useful. I think there are enough information as far as I know. There are enough information to find the truth and who has been behind the attack. But those are not happening,” he said.

“The problem is not with the law, but with those who implement the law. I personally have no confidence if there would be justice, It is not only about this, but about everything. How many murders and disappearance have taken place?”

“Nothing is happening not because there is a problem in the law, but the rulers want to cover them up. Until such system prevails, we would not get the justice. People should understand this.”

Cardinal Malcom Ranjith has said the Catholic Church has not been given the full report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attack and there had been over 1,500 missing pages in the report which included key information on evidence of Hadiya (terror leader Zahran’s wife).

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles has said there was no deliberate attempt to hide anything.

ALLES RESPONDS

Sri Lanka’s Catholic leadership had demanded an independent investigation into the attack and said the Easter carnage clearly supported former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win the 2019 presidency.

Alles this week said Cardinal and some Catholic clergies have gone to media without engaging with the law implementing authorities.

“Since the day I got this minister post, I have been asking both cardinal and Catholic Church to look into the continuous investigation done by police. I will bring all of them and make a presentation. If there is any shortcomings, let me know,” Alles said addressing a political meeting on Sunday.

“There are various talks about a mastermind. I have given a promise that whoever is involved, even if it is a powerful political leader, I will arrest him. It has been two years since I have promised them and invited to discuss the investigations with us to see who the real mastermind is.”

“But unfortunately, the cardinal and some priests conduct press conferences and say the government has not been doing anything and has not found the mastermind. They have been telling the same thing in all the press conferences.”

“I invite both the Cardinal and the Catholic Church to place go through the police investigation and to conclude these investigations.” (Colombo/April 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka seeks to draw youth into agri-entrepreneurship with 1.6bn funding

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has earmarked 1.6 billion rupees for the establishment of 160 model farms across the island, that are to be owned and operated by youth agri-entrepreneurs.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has taken steps to allocate 1,600 million rupees to establish 160 villages in 25 districts with 6 youth agri entrepreneurship villages in each district,” Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was quoted in a statement.

“Arrangements have been made to provide an amount of one million rupees to each village under the first phase.”

The Minister said the aim of the program is to attract youth to agriculture and to introduce them to new agricultural technology, so they could target local markets and exports.

Under the initiative vegetables, fruits, plantation crops, and fish are to be harvested, and livestock products are to be produced in the villages. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka Navy nabs fishermen engaged in illegal fishing

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Navy apprehended eight persons engaged in illegal fishing in the seas off Ambalanpokkanei, Mullaitivu, Poduwakattu, and Trincomalee, this week.

“The operations also led to the seizure of 3 dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear employed for these illegal acts,” it said in a statement.

“The Sri Lanka Navy remains vigilant and conducts operations to combat illegal fishing in its sea and coastal areas, with a view to supporting legal fishing activities.”

The fishermen were engaging in light-coarse fishing and using unauthorized fishing nets.

They were intercepted by the SLNS Gotabaya and SLNS Walagamba of the Eastern Naval Command.

The individuals were identified as residents of Mullaitivu, Kuchchaveli and Poduwakattu, aged between 21 to 53 years.

The fishermen, dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear were handed over to the Assistant Directorate of Fisheries – Mullaitivu, and the Fisheries Inspector of Trincomalee for legal action, the Navy said. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Fifteen years after the end of the war, victims still await justice at Mullivaikkal: Amnesty

ECONOMYNEXT – Speaking at a commemoration marking the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s internal armed conflict on 18 May 2009, which culminated in the brutal Mullivaikkal offensive where countless civilian lives were lost, Secretary General at Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said:

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict.

It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.

Ahead of this event, we have witnessed clampdown on the memory initiatives, including arrests, arbitrary detentions and deliberately skewed interpretations of the Tamil community’s attempts to remember their people lost to the war. Authorities must respect the space for victims to grieve, memorialise their loved ones and respect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by those on both sides of the conflict, yet there has been little in the way of an independent or impartial national inquiry into such serious crimes.

Meanwhile, the families of those who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict have been left to search desperately for their loved ones. It is truly heartbreaking to hear from victims how long they have been demanding justice in vain.

The Sri Lankan government is best placed to provide answers to the victims, however numerous domestic mechanisms to establish accountability in the last 15 years have been mere window dressing.

The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released earlier this week too reiterates the gaping deficits in Sri Lanka’s accountability initiatives that has contributed to impunity remaining deeply entrenched.

Tens of thousands of victims and their families continue to suffer in anguish as they await truth, justice, and reparations. We stand in solidarity with them here in Mullivaikkal today.”

Background:

During the internal armed conflict from 1983 to 2009, Sri Lankan government forces and their armed political affiliates committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and acts of torture against Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE also launched indiscriminate suicide attacks on civilian targets like buses and railway stations, assassinated politicians and critics, and forcibly recruited children as fighters.

Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law peaked in the final months of the conflict, most notably in May 2009 when some 300,000 displaced civilians were trapped between the warring parties.

It was at Mullivaikkal, a small village in Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, where the final offensive between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE took place, killing at least 40,000 civilians according to UN estimates.

Each year, on 18 May, a memorial event at Mullivaikkal brings together thousands of war-affected Tamils to commemorate those lost to the war and demand justice and accountability.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this week released a report on accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.
(Colombo/May18/2024)

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