Govt on right track to deal with any extremism - Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera | Sunday Observer

Govt on right track to deal with any extremism - Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera

6 December, 2020

Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera said the Yahapalana Government had weakened the national intelligence service to a great extent and took action against intelligence officers based on bogus charges, claims and complaints so that the intelligence units had virtually collapsed. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said that was the very reason for the brutal terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday.

He said after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office, we have reorganised and improved the intelligence service. We are now on the right track and if ever extremism or terrorism raises its ugly head, we will know in advance. Our Tri-Forces and the Police are of a high morale at present and they have been given the necessary equipment and training. Therefore, the people should not have any suspicion about the national security of the country, he said.

Q: As Public Security Minister your message to drug peddlers, extortionists and illicit gun-toting elements is most welcome. Could you elaborate on this?

A: The President has given me the task to ensure that the people in the country live in peace and harmony without any fear or suspicion. To ensure that the public live in such an atmosphere, the country should not have any underworld activities, drug peddlers, extortionists or drug menace.

My duty is to ensure that all these issues are addressed. I have given notice to the underworld that they can always hand over their weapons and come to the society and the Government will decide on what action would be taken.

If they continue with their underworld activities we will definitely destroy the underworld. We destroyed the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. Therefore, destroying the underworld is not a difficult task for us. The same would apply to the extortionists. I request the people to inform us if anybody attempts to extort them, so that we will take prompt action.

Q: The two JVP insurrections and LTTE terrorism were serious challenges to internal security. Is the security mechanism on a sound footing to prevent any such violence in the future?

A: The Easter Sunday bombing was due to the lapse on the part of the intelligence agencies. The backbone of the country is national security. It doesn’t mean that after a bomb blast you find out who the parents of the terrorists are or how the weapons had come and what was their target. Such information should be available before the terrorist attack.

That action is taken by the intelligence service. During the Yahapalana Government, they weakened the intelligence service to a great extent. They remanded intelligence officers without any evidence. They took action against intelligence officers based on bogus charges, claims and complaints. Therefore, the intelligence units had virtually collapsed.

That was the reason for the brutal terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. After President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office, we have reorganised and improved the intelligence service. With the strengthened intelligence service, we are now on the right track and if ever extremism or terrorism tries to raise its ugly head, we will know in advance.

That is number one. Second is that our Tri-Forces and the Police are of a high morale at present and they have been given the equipment and training, and we would be able to tackle any such violence in future. We also have a good relationship with INTERPOL. Therefore, the people should not have any suspicion about the national security of the country.

Q: Religious extremism is a serious threat to the country as evidenced by the Easter Sunday bombing. What do you think was the cause for the internal security breakdown?

A: The main cause was the breakdown of the intelligence service. For example, we won the battle against terrorism on May 19, 2009. At that time we had only three intelligence battalions. Thereafter we increased it to seven battalions.

From that you can understand the importance of the intelligence service. That intelligence network was destroyed by the Yahapalana Government. Earlier, we had informants everywhere, such as in temples, churches, five star hotels, normal hotels and even by the side of the roads.

Whenever something happened, we get the information. That network was destroyed during the Yahapalana regime. We have strengthened that network and it is now functioning well. Religious extremism is the most dangerous as such extremists will do anything to go to heaven and sleep with 72 virgins.

Q: Areas such as Kattankudy in the East were breeding grounds for religious fanaticism and lawlessness. What is the current situation regarding law and order in the East?

A: We are increasing surveillance in that area. We have deployed our intelligence people and informed the Security Forces in the area. We have increased our mobile patrols and planted certain informants there and they will give us all information required. Not only in Kattankudy, we have laid emphasis on certain other areas as well.

What they should have done last time was as soon as they received such information they should have analysed and channellled it to intelligence services and then down the line, and the leaders should then take action and give orders. That network had been disrupted during the former Yahapalana regime. We are back on track and will get all information we need. So whenever something crops up we will be aware. That is why we are tracking down all the drug dealers. Let's see what will happen in the future, we have laid down the network strongly.

Q: Peace loving people await the day when the actual culprits of the Easter Sunday bombing are brought to book. What is happening at present?

A: It is up to the Presidential Commission that is now sitting. As far as the Police are concerned, we are providing whatever information available. It is up to the court or the judiciary to take action. At present there is an ongoing Commission and we are waiting until the investigation is complete to take appropriate action.

Q: Is it correct to say that the Yahapalana Government compromised national security to satisfy minority sentiments?

A: Definitely. There cannot be different rules for the minority and the majority. The Yahapalana Government wanted to get votes at the election so they played into the hands of the minorities. That is why under all previous Governments, some politicians of the minority community, enjoyed powerful ministerial portfolios. There can’t be a separate rule for the different communities. There has to be one rule for the entire country and we are firm on that.

Q: The Opposition is alleging that the Government has failed to contain the coronavirus second wave. Could you explain?

A: We controlled the first wave of Covid-19 well. All countries have had second or third waves. For example, after the first wave, how many people came to Sri Lanka? Thousands of workers in the Middle East and other countries came to Sri Lanka. Can we stop that? The PCR tests are not guaranteed hundred percent.

However, nobody can blame the Government for what it has done to contain the pandemic. The Government is doing its utmost. On the other hand you can’t lock down the whole country. The country has to move on.

The people must learn to live with this. They must cooperate with the Government by strictly adhering to health guidelines such as wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance. If the people cooperate we can control the virus.

The Government is doing its maximum and paying the Rs.5,000 relief allowance to the people. In addition, Rs.10, 000 worth dry rations are given for the families under quarantine.

Q: Why cannot the TNA leaders sit with the Government and discuss their community’s problems if any rather than going behind foreign leaders and raising domestic issues at the Geneva sessions?

A: That is wrong. They have taken the oath for the territorial integrity of the country. If they discuss with other countries to introduce federalism in our country, it is totally against the oath they have taken. I think former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made a ‘mistake’.

He was very sympathetic towards these Tamil politicians. When Hitler was defeated his Nazi political party was destroyed. When Pol Pot was killed his Khmer Rouge political party evaporated.

When Saddam Hussein was killed his Ba’ath political party was annihilated. When Hosni Mubarak was taken out of power, his National Democratic Party was banned.

However, when we defeated the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, the LTTE’s proxy and political arm, the TNA was not banned.

That could have been a ‘mistake’ by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa because he was sympathetic towards the Tamil politicians. He forgave the Tamil politicians. Now the TNA is taking advantage of it. The TNA is an LTTE proxy.

Those days TNA MPs took oath before the LTTE leader Prabhakaran prior to taking oath in Parliament. Now TNA MP Sumanthiran commemorated and paid tribute to the notorious LTTEer Pandithar who killed our security forces including those who were in custody.

Sumanthiran has the audacity to pay respect to a killer of our security forces personnel by keeping his own STF escort outside his house.

He then attends Parliament and talks about his parliamentary perks and privileges. Such high-handed acts must stop with immediate effect. Sumanthiran and other Tamil politicians who are always making hate speeches against the Sinhalese should be banned from coming to Parliament.

Q: You went to Geneva on your own accord and presented an objective picture of the alleged human rights abuses. Could you explain your experiences and the response you got?

A: I went to Geneva because the then Yahapalana Government accepted that we have committed war crimes.

Six world renowned war crime experts such as Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Prof. Michael Crane, Prof. Michael Newton, Major General John Holmes and Rodney Dixon QC have given very clear reports that we have not committed any war crimes.

However, then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera went to Geneva and accepted that we have committed war crimes and co-sponsored the infamous 30/1 UNHRC resolution against us. Therefore, it was approved by the UNHRC without any vote or debate.

When we accepted that fact, all 47 countries were not going to back us. That is why I went on my own to Geneva and presented the other side of the story within a very limited time that I was allocated. I think I have done my best. I am confident our Government will handle this issue very carefully.

Q: Some local newspapers have often commented on Sri Lanka’s failure to capitalise on Lord Naseby revelations. Could you explain?

A: The Yahapalana Government never took advantage of that. It is Lord Naseby at the British House of Lords who referred to the wartime despatches by the defence official of the British High Commission in Colombo, Anton Gash. He says that not more than 7,000 have died including the terrorists.

The allegation is that Sri Lanka has allegedly killed 40,000 people. Then the Government should have challenged that allegation. That is why we went to Geneva and attempted to do it.

Q: Is there an invisible hand behind the Mahara prison tragedy or a well-organised campaign by drug lords?

A: We are still investigating it. The CID is investigating the behaviour of the doctor who was attached to the Mahara prison at that time.

A large quantity of drugs used at the Mental Hospital had been found in the Mahara prison.

All these facts will be taken into account which the CID is now investigating. Therefore, I cannot report on that until the investigation is complete.

Q: What have you to say about your thumping election victory in the Colombo district?

A: For almost 44 years, I was away from Colombo. I was in the Navy for 35 years serving in the North and the East. I was also in the Civil Defence Force in the East for four years. As a Deputy Minister, I also worked for five years in the Ampara district. I came back to Colombo after 44 years.

With five to six months of election campaigning, I could secure the highest number of preferential votes in the Colombo district and the second highest number of votes in the country.

I think the people voted for me considering the service I rendered on behalf of the country. I was the only MP who voted against the 19th Amendment in Parliament. I also went to Geneva to defend the country against the alleged human rights abuses.

I was also one of the five Commanders felicitated by the Government for winning the battle against terrorism. All these factors would have contributed to my victory. Therefore, it is my responsibility to fulfil my duty on behalf of the people.