BBS-Rishad clash over ‘Wilpattu squatters’ President to meet warring parties separately, set up new police unit to tackle conflicts No Muslim extremist groups – IGP – by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having acknowledged that ongoing religious tensions could destabilise the country, President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday announced the setting up of a special law enforcement unit to tackle the situation.


The president was responding to a query at a meeting with editors of national newspapers and representatives of the print and electronic media at Temple Trees yesterday. Turning towards IGP N.K. Illangakoon, President Rajapaksa said that the decision had been taken following a discussion he had with the police chief the previous day.


The media raised the issue of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) storming the Ministry of Industry and Commerce premises at 73/1, Galle Road, Colombo 3, on Wednesday in the wake of a simmering dispute over Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen setting up settlements within the Wilpattu Sanctuary.


The President insisted that no organisation would be allowed to take the law into its own hands. Stressing his resolve to tackle the situation, the President admitted that it could escalate, unless prompt remedial action was taken. Revealing that he would meet the  warring parties separately, the President declared his intention to intervene personally to restore normalcy.


The Opposition as well as some constituents of the SLFP-led UPFA are opposed to the BBS. Another UPFA constituent, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress accused the government of turning a blind eye to what was going on.


Responding to UNP allegations that Hambantota Mayor, Eraj Ravindra Fernando had led an attack on a group of UNP parliamentarians on an inspection tour of Mattala airport and Hambantota harbour, the President said that no one could take the law into his own hands.


The President recalled a spate of attacks carried out by the UNP when it was in power and the battles among different factions within the party. Referring to a recent attack directed at UNP Reformists at Matara by the party, the President said that a candidate who contested the recently concluded Southern Provincial Council poll on the UNP ticket had gone to the extent of declaring joining the perpetrators of the attack, dubbed ‘Kurundu polu hamudawa.’


The President also recollected the occasions when the then UNP governments had unleashed the police in civvies on political opponents. The President said perhaps nothing would have happened if Hambantota District parliamentarians, Sajith Premadasa and Dilip Wedaarachchi had been among those engaged in the inspection tour.


Responding to another query, the IGP dismissed allegations that incidents had taken place within high security zones at Mattala airport as well as Hambantota harbour.


Referring to various statements calling Hambantota as an area yet to be liberated, the President laughingly said that wouldn’t be an easy task.


The President pointed out that recent ‘attacks’ on Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga and MP Duminda Silva at Moratuwa and Borella, respectively, had been presented in a different way. In both instances, the parliamentarians had received negative media coverage whereas the reporting on the Hambantota District incident was different.


The IGP briefed the media on the present status of the investigation.


The President said that Wildlife Resources Conservation Minister was on record as having said that the judiciary would be moved against those living in the Wilpattu Wildlife Sanctuary.


The IGP dismissed reports of the existence of Muslim extremist organisations.

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