Attack on Hambantota port workers : State Minister rejects allegations | Sunday Observer

Attack on Hambantota port workers : State Minister rejects allegations

‘Taking ships by force amounts to piracy’

Categorically rejecting the Joint Opposition’s (JO) claim that the Navy had assaulted the employees of Hambantota port who engaged in strike action, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament yesterday that the Navy was sent to rescue two ships in the harbour taken by force by the strikers.

The Minister who made a statement with permission from the Chair, in the evening, said that he had called the Navy Commander and Southern Naval Commandant to find out the situation at the Hambantota Port.

“There was no such thing as setting Naval ratings to attack strikers. The strikers had taken control of two ships in the harbour by force. Therefore, Navy was sent to rescue the vessels from the strikers. There were no shooting as claimed by the JO MPs. At present, the situation has been brought under control,” the Minister said.

UPFA Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa who interrupted the Minister’s speech queried as to how they sent the Navy for the mission as there are no emergency laws in force. MP Rajapaksa said in such situation the armed forces cannot be sent on such missions.Minister Wijewardene said that there is no need for emergency laws when two ships are taken by force. That amounts to piracy and it is the duty of the Navy to rescue them. One of the vessels taken by force belongs to Japan. If the Navy didn’t rescue the two ships, the issue may have developed to international level. In such situations, the strikers are no longer civilians but pirates. The navy is entitled even to shoot at them.

“ If they think of continuing the agitation to disrupt the functioning of harbour, we would hand its control to the Navy and get the Navy to run it,” the Minister said.

JO MPs yesterday morning staged a protest against the Government in Parliament alleging that the Government had used the Navy to assault the employees of Hambantota Port who are in a strike action.

The JO MPs staged their protest after UPFA Colombo District MP Wimal Weerawansa who raised a point of order informed the House that workers of the Hambantota port are being attacked by the Navy. Naval Ratings armed with clubs and poles are thrashing the strikers and this should be stopped with immediate effect, Weerawansa said.

State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena who responded to MP Weerawansa’s query said that there is no point of raising the matter in Parliament as the Speaker has no powers to stop such actions.

State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe described the JO’s protest as a plot and added that MP Weerawansa arrived in the chamber about 20 minutes back. Since then he was canvassing others to create disturbance in the Chamber. Now MP Weerawansa is enacting his drama, the Minister said.

However, all JO MPs stood from their chairs and shouted slogans urging the Government to immediately stop the brutal assault on workers. Some JO members shouted that workers have a right to resort to trade union actions.

They queried whether there is no right for workers to strike under the ‘Yahapalana’ regime.

UPFA Hambantota District MP Chamal Rajapaksa said whether the Government privatises the Hambantota Port or not is a different issue, but attacking the strikers is something else. If the strikers are under attack that should be stopped immediately. MP Weerawansa said there is no need to find anything as the attack is in progress.

The Navy men first attacked the journalists who went there to cover the strike action. Eight workers have already been hospitalised. The Navy had fired in the air to chase away the workers.