Digana mayhem: law enforcement failures | Sunday Observer

Digana mayhem: law enforcement failures

11 March, 2018

As tensions spiralled into violence on the streets in the Kandy district, the Police came in for major flak for failing to stop the mobs and prevent loss of life and property in the affected areas, as Ministers and Opposition politicos charged that law enforcement had failed the people during the unrest.

“Every time this happens, the local level police are failing and it allowed the mob to go beserk,” said Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and Minister Rauff Hakeem, who was scathing in his criticism and called the Kandy violence part of a “clear hate-crime pattern” in an interview last week.

The claim was backed by residents and eyewitnesses all over the affected parts of Kandy District, and forced the Government to keep flooding the area with security forces personnel to bring the situation under control.

“They just watched on” said Mohamed Nawaz, a local adding that the officers claimed they were outnumbered when people were pleading with them to take action on March 6, when Digana Village was attacked by over a thousand strong mob. “We were told to close our shops and go home” he said adding that a senior Police officer assured they will be protected. According to him they returned the next day to find their businesses burnt down and ransacked.

As emotions ran high “The Police tricked us” one local accused. “The Digana mosque gave them food but in the night they allowed our mosque to be attacked” another said.

Visibly upset Mohammed Moulavi of the Wattegama Mosque pointed out that his mosque was attacked despite being right opposite the Wattegama Police Station.

Addressing these allegations yesterday at a meeting held with business leaders in Kandy, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake said in discussions, many had directly pointed the finger at the Police and the Special Task Force (STF) for not being able to contain the violence. “By the time the Army arrived the situation had already escalated” he said adding that accusations such as acts of violence were committed while the Police watched on appeared to be commonplace. “It is unfortunate if such things had occurred” he said.

According to many townsfolk across the Kandy district several days prior to the major unrest they had visited their respective Police stations to seek protection.

As one resident recalled officers of the Karalliyadde Police had told him to request more reinforcements for the towns Police force through politicians. “They said they only had few officers and cannot protect the whole town” he said.

As accusations mounted on March 7, questions were raised as to whether the Police had the required strength to face any possible mobs and attacks. With few officers being stationed in perhaps areas identified as prone to violence, large stretches of small towns had no security presence in the wake of the violence.

On March 8, passing by Hedeniya in Aladeniya, the Sunday Observer team witnessed an incident where the security officers placed in the town appeared to be overwhelmed as a unruly crowd gathered in the town centre. With just one Police officer and two soldiers placed in the town, the crowd outnumbered them.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said the main fault of the incident is not with the Police. “The police didn’t make this incident happen,” he said, “but as always the blame eventually falls on the Police”.

SP Gunasekara pointed out that the Police took immediate action on March 4, when the tension started and two shops in Teldeniya were torched. According to him the Police arrested 10 people involved immediately.

He also pointed out that in Kandy, certain Police stations are far away from places of incidents and it was one difficulty faced by them during the past week. “This is why we have been increasing Police stations” he said.

According to him Police deployed many teams and even called additional officers for special duty to counter the situation. “The recent arrests made by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) including that of the main suspect Amith Weerasinghe is what mainly controlled the violence from spiralling further. ” This should be recognised, he insisted. However Gunasekara also said there were incidents that the Police did not anticipate in the beginning. “For example we did not expect violence in Digana as its away from Teldeniya” he said adding that the focus was therefore on the Teldeniya area while the Police found it difficult to grapple with incidents that appeared to be randomly cropping up in various pocket areas.

He added that while the police had not received official complaints of Police inaction during the unrest the IGP would order an enquiry to identify the possible weaknesses and failures on the part of the Kandy Police Division. (MB)

Pic By Line : Rukmal Gamage and Gamini Ranasinghe