|Terror stalks the populace
In a country constantly overshadowed by the spectre of
terrorism, the security of its citizenry has been the focus of
attention in the past week. A bus exploded in Katubedda on
Friday killing at least 20, a bus bomb in Polgolla and a train
bomb in Dehiwala snuffed out several lives, while several other
bombs were discovered in the nick of time and another train bomb
nearly produced mass mayhem at Wellawatte-all in the course of a
These events highlight the vulnerability of the average, law
abiding citizen to the threat of terrorism, which is precisely
why terror is such a potent weapon. As a result, public
transport has now become a virtual Russian roulette in this
country, especially, on routes in and around Colombo.
The recent spate of attacks indicates a new strategy from the
terrorists. It is clear that they are now primarily targeting
public transport instead of economic, military or political
targets. The reasons may be many: this is a ‘soft’ target. Also,
hitting a train or bus at rush hour will result in a significant
number of casualties. That appears to be the murderous logic of
the terrorists’ handlers.
The government is duty bound to ensure the protection of
civilians and, to be fair by the Minister of Transport,
significant precautions have been taken. The final act of
implementing these measures falls on the shoulders of
individuals and invariably, there will be the one that gets
In that sense, one has to come to an inescapable conclusion: No
matter what precautions are put in place, public transport will
remain vulnerable, because of the very nature of the service it
provides, catering to millions of individuals, day in and day
out, in places scattered throughout the country.
As the Irish Republican Army reminded British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, after a botched assassination attempt on the
Iron Lady at a Brighton hotel, “you have to be lucky always, we
have to be lucky only once”. And that axiom is certainly true of
the current threats faced by our public transport system.
This must compel us to examine other means of tackling this
menace, because, obviously, vigilance in buses and trains cannot
be ensured for everybody, everyday.
These explosions are not carried out at the momentary whim of an
isolated individual. They are the end result of months, if not
years, of advance planning. Men and material have to be put in
place, trial runs have to be undertaken, before the actual act
is carried out. And these measures require the cooperation of
many individuals, acting on the instructions of the terrorist
powers that be.
Has the security establishment turned the searchlight inwards?
Does the State possess sufficient intelligence that enables it
to crack down on the terrorist network that is masterminding
these attacks? And has it made the most of the opportunities
that came its way?
If recent incidents are considered, there have been some glaring
lapses that must be rectified. A main suspect in the Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle assassination died while in custody, swallowing
cyanide. The Piliyandala bus bomber escaped from custody while
being transported to court. Even in last week’s bomb blast at
Wellawatte, the main suspect nearly got away before being
apprehended by an alert home guard in Vavuniya.
The government, despite its best efforts cannot guarantee
security and safety in every bus and every train, everywhere.
But what it can do is to put in place all necessary measures to
ensure that when investigations are undertaken and the judicial
procedures get under way, there are sufficient precautions taken
to guarantee that such lapses are not re-enacted.
This is, after all, a matter of life and death. Eternal
vigilance is not only the price of liberty; it also saves the
lives of innocent civilians caught up in a seemingly unending
conflict that they would rather not be part of.
Conflict in the East should be nipped in the bud
Much was made of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) elections
and the ruling party’s victory in the province, achieved in
collaboration with the Thamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).
But, what has happened in the region, since the May 10 poll, can
hardly be described as encouraging.
Although there were some hiccups in forming the EP
administration, due to the clash between TMVP leader
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan and chief ministerial aspirant
M.L.A.M. Hisbullah, the government’s power brokers managed to
iron out these differences and got the PC up and running.
Thereafter, however, law and order in the region has
deteriorated due to clashes, mostly between the Tamil and Muslim
communities. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauf Hakeem went
so far as to say that these events were instigated by a group
which has been endorsed by the government.
The government, neck deep in a war in the North, will most
certainly not want another cauldron of conflict in the East. It
would also belie their claim that its writ runs in the province,
which it claims has been ‘liberated’. Besides, no one is saying
that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a spent force
in the East, is responsible for the current chaos there.
In these circumstances, it is incumbent upon the government to
rein in the situation with the utmost urgency. A communal clash
in the East would only be an invitation for the LTTE to step in
and exploit the situation to their own advantage, with
disastrous consequences for the government.
It is, therefore, imperative that, conflicts in the East should
be nipped in the bud. If not, it may well be too little, too