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Sri Lanka blasts: Mahinda Rajapaksa's 'don't trouble war heroes' remark reflects majoritarian rhetoric spouted in defence of veterans

While mass burials have been initiated for victims of the Easter Sunday attacks, Sri Lankan politicians have continued to pass the buck over reports claiming that top Lankan authorities had received intelligence about a possible suicide bomb threat, but they failed to act.

Families, communities and clergy across faiths came together at the St Sebastian's church in Katuwapitiya, the site of the second blast, to perform last rites for the dead. Bodies left the church premises for burial at various cemeteries around Negombo.

A parliamentary session which took place, almost concurrently, was a disappointing display of negligence and incompetence on the part of government officials to answer questions and take responsibility for the serious lapse in security that allowed these attacks to happen.

 Sri Lanka blasts: Mahinda Rajapaksas dont trouble war heroes remark reflects majoritarian rhetoric spouted in defence of veterans

File image of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Reuters

State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardena reiterated that he and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were not informed of the threat, and were therefore not able to take any necessary action to prevent them. He then called for the National Thowheed Jamath to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation. He also stated that the attacks were carried out in retaliation for the shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. No evidence was provided to support any of these claims, and Jacinda Ardern's office has responded noting that it has not received any information to substantiate the connection.

Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa slammed the government for wasting its time ‘troubling war heroes’, especially after all that he had done to end terrorism in Sri Lanka during his time in office. Rajapaksa’s statements reflect the majoritarian rhetoric that is often spouted in response to local and international calls for military personnel to be held accountable for human rights violations during the end of the war. These are seen as traps to frame 'war heroes' who should be respected. He also claimed that these attacks would not have taken place if Sarath Fonseka had been leading Sri Lanka’s defence apparatus.

Fonseka was arrested for treason after he unsuccessfully tried to challenge Rajapaksa in his pre-election bid in 2010, following explosive allegations he made regarding human rights violations during the last stages of the war. It was President Maithripala Sirisena who used his executive powers to clear Fonseka of the allegations, and who conferred him with the rank of Field Marshal.

Rajapaksa also addressed arrests made earlier this year in the northwestern town of Wanathawilluwa, where a large cache of explosives was found and asked what happened to the individuals taken into custody. Information regarding the Wanathawilluwa explosives haul was obtained from interrogating the suspects arrested for vandalising several Buddhist statues in Mawanella area last December. At the April 22 press conference, UNP General Secretary noted that those arrested were released on bail on instruction from higher officials – another serious lapse.

Social media is now swarming with photos of protests in the eastern town of Kattankudy against individuals who set off the blasts, for their hand in spreading extremism within the community. Ministers’ claims of ignorance must not clear them for their inaction in questioning what appears to be fissures in the intelligence apparatus.

The lack of accountability among lawmakers of Sri Lanka is not new, as evidenced from the constitutional crisis that took place last year. The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the devastating attacks against churches and hotels in the island nation. The claim, accompanied by a photo and video of the men the group said had unleashed the carnage, emerged more than two days after the near-simultaneous blasts ripped through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians celebrating Easter.

There remains no information on the provisions of the emergency regulations enacted nearly 24 hours ago when the President Gazetted a State of Emergency. Human rights defenders are concerned that this urgency will be used to bring in regulations that impede civil liberties, which many have been pushing against for decades. These provisions are to be debated in Parliament on Wednesday.

A claim from Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake adds to the declaration of Emergency – that the forces must be given more power to investigate and arrest. The expansion of military powers in a state where the military already disproportionately targets dissenters and minority communities is a chilling one to envision for those who have been subject to militarisation and counter-terror legislation in Sri Lanka. President Sirisena has also declared that there will be changes affected to the heads of the security forces within 24 hours, adding to the uncertainty and fear that is growing among people.

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Updated Date: Apr 24, 2019 14:06:38 IST