Laying 'UNREST to rest | Daily News

Laying 'UNREST to rest

Protest in Jaffna over student deaths.

 

Unfortunately for the government, as it went in to ‘damage control’ mode last week over President Maithripala Sirisena’s comments regarding the workings of the Bribery Commission, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID), a fresh crisis erupted in the North, where two students of the Jaffna University were killed.

While the fall out of the President’s remarks led to the eventual resignation of Bribery Commissioner Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe, the issue is likely to end there. No commissioners of the independent commissions have resigned and the United National Party (UNP), though it may be feeling aggrieved, has not made any comment on the President over his outburst.

The incidents in the North in contrast could potentially be more disruptive to the government in the long term. It all began on Friday when two male students attached to the Jaffna University sustained fatal injuries after they were shot at by the Police for disobeying orders to stop their motorcycle at a roadblock at the Kulappidi Junction in Kankesanthurai.

The students who were alleged to have been under the influence of liquor had defied Police orders and sped without stopping, forcing the Police to open fire at them. The two victims had been rushed to the Jaffna Hospital and one of them was pronounced dead on admission while the pillion rider succumbed to his injuries shortly afterwards.

Police killings

The first hint of trouble came when Police in Jaffna denied any shooting in the incident and maintained that the deaths were due to an accident. However, the Government Information Department issued a statement soon after stating that five policemen had been arrested in connection with the deaths and had been interdicted with immediate effect.

Police killings, as evidenced by the spate of killings of African Americans by Caucasian policemen in the United States recently, evoke public criticism and a strong reaction everywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, the killing of university students has almost always had political connotations and repercussions. This incident is not only a death due to Police action, it also a killing of a university student and has the potential to escalate into an ethnic issue as well.

Hence the government was taking no chances. A special team from the CID was dispatched from Colombo to commence an investigation into the incident and security in the area was intensified. Almost immediately President Maithripala Sirisena instructed the authorities to conduct an impartial inquiry into the incident.

Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe

 

Head of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan met President Sirisena while attending an event in Trincomalee and raised concerns regarding the incident. Sampanthan also spoke to Inspector General of Police Pujitha Jayasundera, requesting him to expedite the inquiry into the deaths.

Nevertheless, the Tamil political parties were perturbed. Usually unable to find common ground, several parties organised a 'hartal' in the North to protest the killings. The participating parties were the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Front (EPRLF) and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).

Former TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said that the 'hartal' would register their protest with the government over the incident, and call for action against the wrongdoers. “We suspect a hidden hand behind this incident. We asked for the scaling down of the military presence in the North in the belief that the police can look after law and order there,” he said.

Death of two Jaffna university students

The 'hartal' was held on Tuesday. It was a success in that life ground to a halt in the North with schools and offices closed and public transport ceasing to operate. However, there were no major incidents or violence reported. A day earlier, a similar protest at the University of Jaffna had also passed without incident.

Shortly after the deaths of the two students, on Sunday, two officers attached to the Government Intelligence Service were hospitalised with injuries due to a sword attack by two unidentified motorcyclists who had allegedly attacked them in Chunnakam, Jaffna.

Thereafter, a hitherto unknown group calling themselves the ‘AAVA Gangsters’ had claimed responsibility for the sword attack. The group said the incident was a retaliation for the death of two Jaffna University students who were allegedly shot by the police.

The group warned the police and the public to expect such incidents in the future as retaliation against “activities that were destroying the culture and society of Jaffna”. Posters appeared in Jaffna claiming to be from this group and claimed that “punishment will be meted out to those engaged in activities that would destroy the social norms and ideas in Jaffna”. The group warned the police and the public to expect such incidents in the future too as retaliation.

This led to speculation that this was a ‘revenge’ attack for the killing of the two students. It had authorities in Colombo worried that this could now escalate into a spate of ‘tit for tat’ attacks and then explode into a full blown communal conflict.

Later, the Government Information Department was to say that the Intelligence Officers were attacked when they had intervened to prevent an attempt by a group of gangsters to extort money from a shop owner. A probe is now underway to determine whether this was, in fact, an isolated incident unrelated to the deaths of the two university students and mischievous elements were trying to take advantage of the situation.

Independent investigation

As the issue continued to linger, the deaths of the students was raised by Opposition Leader Sampanthan again in Parliament on Tuesday. He demanded an independent investigation to bring the perpetrators to book and said his party was concerned about this case because previous high profile criminal cases never led to any conviction. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was to assure him that a probe was underway.

IGP Jayasundera was to also clarify issues relating to the deaths on Tuesday. While maintaining that that the police did have a right to shoot at a vehicle for disregarding an order to stop, Jayasundera did concede that in this incident there appeared to be a shortcoming on the part of the Police officers concerned.

Following these events, there have been some sections of the opposition who have been bemoaning the phased withdrawal of the Army in the North. As the government tries to balance security needs with the sensitivities of the Tamil community, it can expect more of the same.

Thankfully for the most part though, even the usually vociferous factions of the opposition which are very keen to get on the nationalist bandwagon and proclaim the second coming of Eelam at the slightest hint of trouble in the North and East, have maintained a reasonable stance on this issue until now.

An independent inquiry is certainly the way to go. However, it must be held promptly, conducted efficiently and transparently and if wrongdoers are identified, they should be dealt with appropriately. At that stage, the authorities should not resort to the ‘protecting our armed forces’ ruse to shield any perpetrators.

Even then it would not resurrect the two undergraduates who had their lives snuffed out in a most unfortunate manner but it will at least ensure that their deaths do not lead to an unnecessary conflagration that consumes the nation in ethnic divisions and creates conditions for more unrest yet again.


 

There is 1 Comment

Issue is likely to end there- YOU must be joking. The prez is playing politic; He is protecting GR and the 3 commanders when they were questioned about the croocked things they have done after they retired. This is playing politics. Anyone who s investigating these, if he has an iota of brain he will go slow at best. Why on earth he has to go against the Prez on the one hand and on the other with these remarks it is clear to one and all that there is no yahpalanaya any more and if it continues like this it is only a matter of time MR will be back. I for one will not vote for MS s SLFP and nor for RWs UNP because of the disgusting way he is protecting his buddy.

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