Joint Opposition (JO) questions bid to play down National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) attacks on Tamils
Posted on June 7th, 2019

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island



Joint Opposition (JO) MP Shehan Semasinghe says sufficient attention hadn’t been paid to the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) targeting the Tamil community in Easter attacks.

Well over a month after the Easter Sunday carnage the government was yet to give a breakdown of the victims as per the ethnicity, lawmaker Semasinghe said.

Anuradhapura District MP Semasinghe, in an interview with The Island, yesterday alleged that a deliberate attempt was being made to depict the April 21 bombing campaign and subsequent developments as a conflict between the Sinhala Catholic community and the Muslims.

The NTJ attacked Zion church in Batticaloa and St. Anthony’s church, Kotahena when the Tamil mass was in progress at the latter church, MP Semasinghe said. In fact of the three churches attacked, Tamil Catholics were targeted in two-in Batticaloa and Colombo, the SLFPer said, underscoring the pivotal importance of establishing the NTJ’s motive.

Responding to another query, MP Semasinghe said that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and civil society had been largely silent on the NTJ attacks on the Tamil community, though in the immediate aftermath of the bombings a section of the TNA called for military protection for northerners. MP Semasinghe said that the TNA, subsequently, changed its stand and called for a division on the vote on Emergency.

“Of the 16 member parliamentary group, eight voted against government proposal to extend emergency by another month,” MP Semasinghe said.

Estimating about 50 Tamils perished in Batticaloa and Kotahena and well over 100 wounded, MP Semasinghe said he was quite surprised over the TNA voting against emergency.

When The Island pointed out the JO’s failure to vote for the emergency, MP Semasinghe said that he wouldn’t try to defend the lapse on their part. The MP having regretted JO’s absence at the emergency vote, said that the parliament shouldn’t be divided over security measures taken by law enforcement authorities and the armed forces to neutralize the NTJ threat.

Parliament extended emergency on May 24 with 22 MPs (18 UNP and four UPFA lawmakers loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena) voting for the extension of the emergency whereas eight TNA voted against.

Referring media reports pertaining to Minister Mano Ganesan taking up current security measures in place with Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi, MP Semasinghe said that ministers shouldn’t intervene in security matters under any circumstances. The government called in the military in the wake of April 21 attacks as law enforcement authorities couldn’t cope up with NTJ challenge, MP Semasinghe. Asked whether the JO felt Minister Ganesan had interfered in purely a security matter, the MP emphasized that the government constituent should have instead made representations to the Defence Ministry or the State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene. How could Minister Ganesan raise the issue with the Jaffna Commander, MP Semasinghe asked.

Semasinghe emphasized that ministers should stop forthwith taking up security issues with the military. The lawmaker said that State Defence Minister Wijewardene was yet to clarify All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen’s recent claim that he contacted Army Commander Lt. Commander Mahesh Senanayake regarding the arrest of a terrorist suspect on his advice.

Lawmaker Semasinghe said that the TNA owed an explanation as to why it opposed re-imposition of emergency on May 24 in spite of predominately Tamil Batticaloa district being a key NTJ target. The MP said that one of the would be suicide cadres had married an under-aged Tamil girl from Batticaloa regardless of her parents’ opposition before April 21 attacks. The girl subsequently died in blasts triggered by NTJ members after being surrounded by the police in their Sainthamarudu safe-house on April 26 evening, the MP said. Unfortunately, the TNA had felt comfortable in justifying Easter Sunday attacks, the MP said, referring to TNA spokesman M. A. Sumanthiran blaming the April 21 carnage on Sri Lanka’s failure to address grievances of minorities. If so, could President’s Counsel Sumanthiran explain as to why the NTJ deliberately targeted Tamils, both at Batticaloa and Kotahena, Semasinghe asked.

The Island sought information regarding deaths and injuries caused by the Batticaloa blast from V. Sivagnanasothy, Secretary to the Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development and Youth Affairs. Sivagnasothy said that there had been 27 deaths and injuries to 67 persons. Compensation to the tune of Rs 25.1 mn had been paid to 25 families and Rs 9.2 million paid to those wounded in the blast, the official said. Sivagnasothy said that the families of two dead and six wounded remained to be paid compensation. According to him 31 perished at Kotahena.

Sivagnanasothy placed the total number of dead and the wounded as a result of six suicide attacks, at 261 and 407, respectively. Responding to another query, the official said that altogether the families of the dead were paid Rs 170 mn and the wounded Rs 32.5 mn. According to him, the compensation were yet to be made to over 200 victims (both categories).

Semasinghe said that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter attacks was meant to humiliate President Sirisena. The JO spokesman described the PSC as a continuation of the battle between President Sirisena and the UNP over the former appointing a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) in January 2017 to look into Central Bank bond scams. However, the proceedings revealed the pathetic state of affairs in the apex body responsible for national security, MP Semasinghe said. Both parties couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for allowing NTJ attacks.

The bottom line was that the government did nothing in spite of receiving specific intelligence warning on April 04, 2019 regarding the attack, MP Semasinghe said.

A section of the Indian media reported that New Delhi warned Sri Lanka thrice, with the last warning coming on the day of the incident, the MP said. Semasinghe said that those who tricked the electorate at the last presidential election in January 2015 with promise of good governance and accountability ruined the country over the past four years. Having robbed the Central Bank twice in 2015 and 2016, the government caused debilitating setback to the national economy, MP Semasinghe said, alleging that every sector was ruined due to waste, corruption and mismanagement.

Those handling economy were in a spin, the MP said.

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