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Monday September 20th, 2021
International Relations

Sri Lanka archaeology dept won’t take action against Chinese dredging company

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s department of archaeology will not take action against a Chinese company that was controversially engaged in dredging an ancient irrigation tank in the island’s deep south, an official said.

Archaeology Department Director General Prof Anura Manatunga told EconomyNext Wednesday (June 30) afternoon that the department does not wish to harass anybody by dragging them to court.

The Chinese company had not sought the archaeology department’s permission as it was obligated to do prior to dredging the Tissa Wewa (tank) in Tissamaharama, leading the department to halt the work.

However, as the company has since obtained permission from the department, no action will be taken against it,  said Manatunga.

The archaeology chief said the department’s southern office in Galle received a formal request letter from the company on Monday (June 28), after which a team of officials visited the site on Wednesday. According to Prof Manatunga, any future course of action will be decided upon submission of the report.

“We are not going to take action without seeing the case. Simply, we cannot go to the courts. It’s also harassing people. We don’t want to harass anybody nor do we want to work against development projects,” he said.

“But what we want to see is, we want all the development projects working according to the law and rule of the country (sic),” he added.

The dredging of the tank raised much controversy in Sri Lanka over the past week, as news footage showed Chinese men clad in military camouflage outfits at the site. Government responses to media queries about the outfits have been vague at best.

Cabinet spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella dismissed concerns of possible Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka, claiming on Tuesday (29) that the outfits worn by the Chinese workers were similar to overalls worn by Sri Lankan workers at local automobile workshops.

Asked to comment on this, Prof Manatunga told EconomyNext:  “I don’t know who they are. It’s not my concern but whoever is doing this, they must first and foremost obtain our permission.”

“I still don’t know [what the company is], because I did not get the letterhead; the Galle office got it.

“The permission they asked for was to remove mud [or silt],” he added.

At the weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, Minister Rambukwella further said that if the archaeology act has been violated, there are laws that Sri Lanka can resort to.

“We strongly reject that we were silent and cowardly about the incident,” he told reporters.

The minister said a joint investigation by the army and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had concluded that there was nothing untoward in the outfits worn by the Chinese workers and that they were simply a uniform worn by personnel attached to the dredging company.

“For example, there are people in security firms who wear uniforms similar to the military uniform and work. If the acts were violated blatantly then all parties involved will go to courts within the first 24 hours.

“As far as we know it was not the Chinese military. The CID report says those uniforms were overall kits. I have seen people working in garages wear such overalls,” he said.

Asked whether Sri Lankan civilians are allowed to wear cammo outfits, Rambukwella said: “If it is a registered security firm, there is a list [of regulations] on how the uniform should be. If there are any deviations from that list, approval has to be sought.” (Colombo/June30/2021)

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