Two cabinet meetings were held yesterday to discuss the ongoing situation with the last one called at 7pm on Tuesday night. Co-cabinet spokesperson Minister Rajitha Senaratne addressing the media at the Government Information Department said separate meetings with the National Security Council and heads of government were held thereafter to decide on what needs to be done to control the situation. Minister Senaratne confirmed that they had taken the decision to control and monitor social media sites to contain the spread of rumours and inflammatory messages which have resulted in ethnic tensions being further heightened in the country.
Internet access to those in the Kandy district was thus cut off with social media platforms like Facebook,Viber and Instagram being blocked islandwide. Internet speeds were also reduced across all platforms.
“The government decided last night (6) to take strict action against all those who spread communal hatred and to investigate into who is behind this”, Minister Senaratne said.
He said that thus far they have been able to discover that the incidents in Digana and Teldeniya were carefully planned and executed by persons with political backing.
The Minister declared that there were seven persons involved in the conspiracy so far; two recently appointed local government councillors, two Members of Parliament, a monk affiliated to their political party, a secretary of one of the MPs and one of their Party organisers.
The Minister alleged that the unrest may have been caused by a certain party wanting to distance the minorities from the government.
“The government received most of the minority vote at the last election, when you look at the election results, those who say they have won, have not succeeded as much and our vote base has not reduced either. If they are to increase their vote base from 40 percent, they have to increase it by 11 percent. And the only way to do this is to have the minorities move away from the government.Certain MPs have stated in Parliament that even votes we couldn’t get, we will get next time. So we will look into all this”, he said.
In response to why the police were not more effective at the time of the unrest however, Minister Senaratne said that investigations have been launched into the conduct of the police at the time and that thus far it was revealed that the Kandy ASP was not present when things broke out and thus the junior officers had not been given any clear instructions to act.
The Minister who was supported by his cabinet colleagues, Co-cabinet spokesperson, Lands and Parliamentary Reforms Minister, Gayantha Karunathilake, Public Administration and Management, Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Deputy Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Highways and Higher Education Minister, Kabir Hashim and Special Assignments Minister, Dr.Sarath Amunugama.
Speaking on behalf of the SLFP, Minister Amunugama said all political parties in Parliament have with one voice rejected racism and extremism. “We have all stated that this is something which should not be allowed and I thank them for that”.
He stressed that as the government they would not be remiss in their responsibility to uphold the Constitution of the country which guarantees equal rights and freedoms for all ethnic groups in the country.
The Minister also stressed that the attacks were politically motivated and that people from outside the area have been brought to escalate the situation.
“All evidence points to an organised and carefully implemented plan”, said Amunugama.
This is not a conflict between groups within the village. People from outside were brought in vehicles, people spoke in inflammatory languages and caused conflict
Evidence is revealed, that this was organized and carefully implemented. The police have arrested certain individuals; some are attached to politics, some are former military men and some are active military personnel, he added.
UNP General Secretary, Minister Hashim speaking on behalf of the UNP said they strongly condemned these attacks and stated that as a multiracial party, they believed in protecting the rights of all citizens to live together equally as Sri Lankans.
“The Buddhist monks and Muslim religious leaders had met and discussed the incident of the murder of the lorry driver and agreed to not have it get out of hand, but a group from outside had come and launched attacks”, said Hashim.
He stressed that whilst a political group with certain agendas were trying to inflame the situation, the President and Prime Minister have taken a strong stand to enforce the law equally to all parties, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
For all those who are encouraging attacks, do not think that there will not be any consequences. We all will suffer as a result of this, said Minister Amunugama.
Military in control in most areas - Chief of Defense Staff Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne commenting on the security situation at cabinet yesterday said the military was in control in most areas and that they were using minimum force to contain tensions,
“These groups of attackers are not armed, they come with clubs and stones, most damage are done to property and apart from those who got caught in between, there have been no casualties”.
He stressed that the military has taken extra precautions to ensure that there are no lives lost as those behind these attacks were expecting such a scenario.
“We are very much aware that the people behind this want us to fire and kill people”, he said.
Today we are alive because of the Muslim community, our intelligence was mainly run by the Muslims. The military is grateful to them.They sacrificed their lives and went with us on long range reconnaissance patrols, he added.
“All these Sinhalese who are doing this damage to our Muslim brothers are traitors. This community was always with us and they protected us.In Kandy all walked freely without LTTE bombs because of the Muslims who were in the armed forces.That is why they were targeted by the LTTE”
I am saddened as a professional military man by these incidents. Most who are doing this damage have never seen war, the Admiral said.
He however admitted that the forces could not cover the entire area and that minor incidents have been reported even during the police curfews.
“People on motorbicycles throw stones at mosques or temples and run off. They are hard to catch”, he said. Commenting on stones being thrown at a temple in Ambatenna, he said they were not sure whether it was done by Muslims or by Sinhalese themselves to make things worse.