Importance of security in
south as contours of war shift
Last week’s bomb
attack at Akuressa, Matara, that killed over a dozen people
and critically injured Minister Mahinda Wijesekera, awoke
Sri Lanka to a rude reality that it must confront: that the
contours of the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) are surely changing.
The battles in the Wanni jungles will soon be over. But the
same cannot confidently be said about the Eelam war. The
LTTE, at least in the short term, will revert to the modus
operandi so familiar to them - guerrilla warfare, with their
hallmark being suicide attacks.
It was only a few days ago that the Sri Lankan public was
raising a hue and cry about alleged security lapses at
Lahore in Pakistan, where our cricketers came under attack.
The incident caused embarrassment to the Pakistani
authorities, and many in our country took umbrage at the
level of security that was provided.
But the Akuressa incident compels us to question whether we
ourselves are mindful of the threats posed by terrorists -
and more importantly, whether we are doing enough to counter
The Sri Lankan public has been used to and has often
criticised the spectacle of security going into overdrive.
We have experienced sudden road closures, sometimes for
hours, so that a VIP convoy could get to its destination.
Even if that may not amuse the general public, they have
tolerated such encumbrances, all in the name of enhanced
security for our leaders.
But what do we see in video footage of the Akuressa
incident? A group of ministers, not just one of them,
walking in a single row, surrounded by members of the public
with hardly a policeman or any other security officer in
sight. It is ridiculously naïve, and the VIPs are obviously
sitting ducks for any would-be suicide bomber. Indeed, those
politicians who survived should consider themselves very,
Where were the security
Were there no security experts dealing with the celebrations
last week, especially when so many cabinet ministers were
participating in a single event? How could an assassin
riding a bicycle gain access to the VIPs with such ease? Why
were the VIPs arriving at the ceremony positioned in the
middle of a mass of people that made them especially
What is the earthly point in having numerous checkpoints,
cordon and search operations, alternate traffic arrangements
and many such security measures that disrupt normal life,
and at the same time costs millions of rupees to implement
day in and day out, when a suicide bomber on a cycle is
allowed to saunter into a row of ministers, unrecognised,
unchecked, and unchallenged?
Then we also saw footage of school children running for
cover immediately after the incident. It is incriminating in
that it proves that school children were participating in a
public function attended by politicians - a widespread but
unhealthy practice in our country. Had a tragedy befallen
any of these schoolchildren, the repercussions would have
been enormous, and the authorities who desired their
participation would have had a lot of explaining to do.
It is not as if we do not have experience in this type of
incident. No less a person than the former President
Ranasinghe Premadasa, was assassinated by a suicide bomber
when he took to the streets in typical Premadasa style to
organise the May Day procession.
If there was a lesson in that incident, it was not learnt
well. In President Chandrika Kumaratunge’s Cabinet, Minister
C.V. Gooneratne was killed while parading in public at a
ceremony held to commemorate war heroes. In President
Rajapaksa’s Cabinet, it was Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle
who paid the supreme sacrifice, when he took it upon himself
to declare open a New Year festival. And now, Minister
Wijesekera nearly perished in the Akuressa incident.
Securing the north and east of the country is no doubt
paramount in the war against terror. But that should not
lull the authorities or VIPs into believing that the south
will automatically transform itself overnight into a
peaceful haven. In fact, the reverse is true.
It is common knowledge that the LTTE had amassed a network
of operatives in the south of country during the past
several years, especially during the period of the Ceasefire
Agreement. That they have been largely inactive in the past
few months, cannot simply mean that they have disappeared
into thin air.
They are surely still around and awaiting orders from their
masters of terror to carry out their dastardly deeds. And it
is only common sense that as the war in the jungles of
Mullaitivu gets more and more intense, the risk of such
attacks increases. And that is all the more reason why those
minding security issues in the south should be extra
cautious in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Albeit belatedly, the government has ordered that
politicians refrain from attending public events without the
express permission from the Ministry of Defence- and that is
commendable. Perhaps it should adopt the same wary attitude
towards using school children in public functions where
politicians participate, and ban that practice forthwith
This is precisely the time and the hour to be extra
vigilant, for the wounded Tiger is in its last throes, and
is hell bent on hunting its prey, no matter what, knowing
well that it has nothing more to lose and everything to
gain, if it scores a hit. Eternal vigilance, after all, is
the price of liberty, and it is a fair price to pay.