Lalin’s Column: Geneva-Not again
There was in March a surge of underworld killings, many of them in Colombo in daylight. Ubiquitous underworld hit squads, dormant for years post bellum, had surfaced with a vengeance. Was Colombo trying to become an old Chicago style mafia war zone?
In 2005, 59,391 grave crimes were recorded. This went down to 55,349 in 2013 and then to 50,052 in 2014. However since 2015 the trend appeared to change for the worse with the underworld operating with increasing and disturbing frequency and openly in daylight. Prisoners being taken under armed guard in buses, (Prison Dept ‘Black Marias of today), have been shot at and seriously wounded. A pregnant woman was attacked while walking out of the Welikada Prison in Colombo; others were attacked in their homes and some at May Day processions. One was killed in a fisheries harbor in Ambalangoda towards the end of March. The attackers arrive on motor cycles and cars.
Their ‘targets’ are apparently all members of competing gangs. The individuals not only the gangs are known to the police and the public and even by their nick names. Some politicians however feign ignorance of their very existence. Innocents like the 2 dead and 11 wounded in the last May Day Bloemendhal procession of the ruling party were also caught in the crossfire of the underworld hit men. Colombo awoke to the reality that extreme violence with over 2,500 murders annually could not be willed away by grand stand noises.
The President, in the lack of interest by the TV drama (nadagam) inclined politicians, acknowledged the situation needed urgent remedies. He, on arrival at a Dhamma school felicitation, announced that he had told DIG Pujitha Jayasundera who had met him there, to eradicate the underworld with the help of the Army. With that one announcement not only the little fellows in the Dhamma school but the school priest who waxed eloquent about the menace of the underworld but the public too, were impressed and apparently relieved. This possibly pre empted the normal poking of fingers into the legal process by politicians so inclined. Murderers, drug barons, IRCs and the like and their supporters in or out of power were warned. The Army that destroyed the LTTE was now expected to take on the underworld. Its awesome fire power had impressed all.
It was reasonable to expect that a sweep on unlicensed weapons would follow. It never did. It is known there are over 65,000 weapons in the hands of non security force people as SSP Tassie Seneviratne made known many years ago. It is not known how many thousands of unlicensed weapons are being kept by private individuals. The government gave their supporters weapons during the JVP days of terror (1988/9). Many, if not all the weapons given, were not handed back. They disturbingly remain unaccounted for. There are also those stolen, bought or gifted during the 26 year old LTTE terror. The underworld benefitted.
In Singapore, which some SL politicians never tire of praising, no civilian can keep a weapon at home or move around with one. No one of importance has promoted the adoption of such a law in SL. This must be because personal agendas, interests and patronage run counter to what is best for the public, law and order and national security. Gangland and other murders with weapons will not abate in SL until drastic laws are promulgated and enforced to recover and destroy illegally held weapons and outlaw private ownership of weapons.
The police got stuck in, alone. A lull in the gangland ‘hits’ has been observed since. Some gang leaders were netted. Where there is no political interference, the police can be quite impressive. They are skilled professionals. They have taken on respectively insurgents and terrorists boldly in 1971 and from 1979 to 2009.They paid a heavy price in lives lost. Some have the experience of serving in East Timor, Haiti, Sudan and Liberia on UN duty too. Their performance overseas has been outstanding, exhibiting professionalism, effectiveness and good public relations. This has won much praise for them. The absence so far of SL politicians in UN trouble spots could be a valid reason for their striking success overseas. However at home their reputation is under strain. That includes criticism by the very politicians who corrupted them.
The Army spokesman too followed up the President’s remarks immediately. He emphasised that the Army was in consultation with the police and positive results could be expected very soon. In his runaway enthusiasm, he appeared to have blinded himself to the fact that tackling crime is not a duty of the SL or any other army in a democracy. FM Fonseka, now a minister, too made this abundantly clear when interviewed on TV shortly after he was promoted in 2015.
The Army is not expected or trained to do police work. Going after the underworld is strictly a job for the Police that has an over 150 years of experience being raised in September 1866. The SL Police is the oldest in the sub continent if not the region. The Indian police were raised only in 1905.Despite its frailties, closely monitored and exposed by an educated populace and unforgiving, harsh and probing media, the SL Police is still streets ahead of others. It performs in a region that holds human life cheap, is known for stinking corruption and frightening chaos on the roads. It has strength of 89,000 or 438 policemen for 100,000 people. This is a far better proportion than its counterparts in the region. India has over one million policemen, a staggering amount of rapes especially in Delhi (rape capital of the world) and thousands of unsolved murders.
SL Police history goes back to 1659 during Dutch times when four ‘fat men’ were enrolled as policemen. They commemorate their dead heroes on the day that the gallant Malay constable Shaban died during the capture of Saradiel, the legendary Robin Hood of SL in the Kandyan (Mawanella) hills on 21 March 1864.Since then it developed a tradition of devotion to duty even at the cost of one’s life, courage and a high level of operational effectiveness. There was no political interference then. The pay was not substantial either. Corruption was not inbuilt - then.
The lack of success in prosecutions has however been used to show the police in a negative light and possibly corrupt. This however is a charge that is made against most police forces in the world. Successful prosecutions had however been limited even in the 1860s. Saradiel himself was freed on a murder charge (of Natakoti Chettiah) due to the lack of evidence. This was during the heyday of British imperial rule during Queen Victoria’s reign.
An honoured, respected and fiercely independent legal system was handed over to the country at its Independence. It stood firm for about 30 years. However generations of pathological liars as witnesses, bent lawyers, unfit judges, corrupt prison and court officials, pernicious politicians and not only the police contributed to whittling it down to what it is today.
Underworld gangs proliferate when there is a nexus between criminals, police and politicians. The police only reflect society and not the other way around. Their faults are society induced and nursed if not protected. They come from the same milieu as the citizens including the politicians. Their corruption and other evils are no less or more than the rest of the people.
The surge in under world killings in March was followed by repeated and sudden island wide black outs, not seen for 20 years. The heat had soared into the near forties. Explosions at Biyagama and Kottugoda were followed by charges of gross negligence and inefficient administration in several places including Norachcholai Lakshapana, Kotmale and Victoria power stations. ‘Sabotage’, as usual, was the lightning response, soon ruled out as cock eyed. Nothing like this had ever happened even during the years of ‘conflict’ as stated by the then Minister in charge of power, now Megapolis Minister Mr. P Ranawaka
It became clear through CEB channels that corruption was a major reason for its ills. Some newly appointed engineers including the daughter of one could also have contributed to the black outs. It is now known that 3 if not more of the private electric companies that have been chosen to supply any shortage of electricity to the CEB have senior CEB engineers on their boards. The GM CEB is their Chairman! Corruption could not have got any murkier or been so obvious.
The immediate ‘shock’ reaction of the government was to order the Army to guard power stations too.
If the power stations were under armed attack as in an insurgency and the police were unable to do protect them, there may have been justification for such a requirement. But the present situation is to do with high level corruption and gross negligence. It requires a leadership solution. It is not even a Police, far less an Army, duty in peace time.
While the call goes out from the highest for the Army to do this and do that when the chips are down, the army has been asked to don its war paint. But it is the same war winning Army that is due to face assorted if not criminal indictments in Geneva. That the resolution to do so was jointly sponsored by the USA and SL’s own government is imaginatively broadcast as the best solution to escape ‘punishment’ by the West (Euro American world).The latter, self appointed moralists to the world, are responsible in the last 13 years for over a million civilian deaths all over the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since the criminal invasion of Iraq by the USA and its allies like UK began in 2003.
The Army is already sinking into the Geneva quagmire. It may now be double faulted if it attempts to perform Police duties and gets involved in taking down the underworld. It is constituted to defend SL from external or internal enemies. That does not normally include sharing police duties. Neither do the police want the army to interfere in what is purely police business.
The worst case scenario could be like Waco, Texas USA in 1993 when about 1,500 religious fanatics, belonging to Branch Dravidians, a Seventh Day Adventist (‘Back to the Bible’) sect with 305 fire arms including .50mm rifles and small mortars, held out against the ATF, CIA and FBI for 51 days. A ‘Doomsday’ scenario had been forecast but had passed uneventfully. The final onslaught left 73 dead officially. The courts cleared the CIA/FBI action. Some others considered it homicide as tear gas attacks had led to a fire that killed most of the defenders. The Oklahoma City bombing that followed 2 years later and the Columbine High School massacre were allegedly linked to those sympathizing or connected to the Dravidians. The SL police with the STF are quite capable of rooting out even such opposition without army support.
If however the Army is brought in to deal with an underworld or even fundamentalist religious sect’s Waco like ‘fortress’, there is a likelihood of its actions being considered illegitimate, disproportionate or unjustified by the West and its acolytes here. The actions of the army may then be deemed criminal by the Geneva mob. It may well set off UN’s western looking Jordanian, al Hussein, (Israel’s ‘Ray of Sunshine’ -Times of Israel) on another voyage of discovery. This could end with the Army making repeated appearances at Geneva until there is no Army or fighting spirit left in it. Civilian problems should be left to the civil authorities to deal with except in extra ordinary circumstances.
The SL Armed Forces in which 21,000 sacrificed their lives, tens of thousands more were wounded and thousands crippled and disabled for life, are the pride of the country, held in great affection and respect by the vast majority of the people as no other organization is or will ever be. It must always remain so. They should not be pitted against civilians whether they are criminals or corrupt government officials. Please. That is Police work which the Police can surely handle competently. The underworld knows it too well. The CEB will get to know soon.
Spare the Army.
- Asian Tribune -