Former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa speaks on the recent clash in the Hambantota port premises and the current political status quo.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q An unexpected clash occurred at the Hambantota port. Why didn’t you all think to resolve this by way of discussion?
It is with that precise intention that I intervened and along with the monks took the Prime Minister the previous day to the Walawa temple and discussed about this.
Q If the matter was sorted out by way of discussion, why did people fight with poles?
Lay folk called on monks to intervene into the issue pertaining to their rights and lands and requested that the monks bring the matter to the notice of the Government. That is why the monks attempted to conduct a peaceful satyagraha. At that moment, the Police had closed all roads from the Ambalantota town and banned entry to Hambantota town to monks including the Chief Incumbent of the Tissamaharama temple. They had obtained a Court order. This too was a form of incitement. Subsequent to this, barriers were put up and the Police was covering every inch and everyone was searched in a manner which further inflamed people. People too get a little angry when this happens. When an industrial zone is being built, people are keenly interested in the land in which it is being constructed on, the sites of worship, agricultural lands and areas in which animal husbandry is taking place. Also, when something is being done, it should be done in a manner so as to eradicate the fears of the people. It must be done in a transparent manner. There was none of this.
Q The group representing the Government Party in the Hambantota District knew about this.
Not at all. That was the reason. There are two Ministers in the District. There is a Minister of our party too. He too didn’t know. Those in our party who are in the opposition too didn’t know. That is why in order to explain the situation faced by the people, I took the Prime Minister to meet the monks in the area. Yet, the doubt wasn’t erased. If a clear reply was given, the monks would have even stopped the satyagraha. They were going to meet at the temple and march and sit on the road and conduct the satyagraha. They were not going to go to the premises where the ceremony was to take place. This I know with absolute certainty. Before they embarked on the journey, they conducted a bodhi pooja. I too participated in it. Since all sides were barred from entry, they went through the middle of the village.
Q If they went for a peaceful satyagraha, how come they attacked with stones and other objects?
No. That happened when a group that came from the other side straightaway came to the side the monks were at and joined. At that time they didn’t know whether those who had joined were from their village or from elsewhere. Those who came from the other side joined the protest and started assaulting the monks. On the other side, they were ready with stones. They were planning to throw them at the front. Then, when these groups came from both sides, the monks and the people were caught in the middle.
The large group of lay folk will not wait and watch the monks getting attacked. From the images it was clear as to who was there. In one place, a former female United National Party (UNP) member of the Tissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha was there. She was attacking people with poles and throwing stones while wearing a saree. Further, there was a former UNP member of the Lunugamvehera Pradeshiya Sabha. She too behaved the same. One could clearly see those who joined them.
Then there was a former UNP urban council member, Ayub Khan who is now the Chairman of the National Salt Corporation. When the Chairman comes, employees of the salt mines too accompany him. Groups such as this were brought and everything was kept ready and in place to attack the monks and the lay folk. When they are ready to attack and throw stones, those on this side don’t wait without doing anything. The two groups fought.
This group not only attacked the peaceful monks and the lay folk but also started damaging State property and attacking the Police. Then who gets caught? They are not the ones who get caught. It is the group who peacefully went to the protest.
Q : The allegation is that these protestors who behaved in a violent fashion damaged public property.
It is like this. This too is now being put onto the side of these people. It was in front of the Inspector General of Police that the protestors were pelted with stones. The Police is silent about this. This is to be seen clearly in the video footage. They are the ones who damaged State property. It would be good if these persons too are arrested after viewing the video footage. The law must be enforced against them too. Those who came with a good intention were attacked by a group that came from Colombo. Now they have caught by the people of the village.
One youth makes a statement that they were brought from Colombo to this place on the guise of being taken to Kataragama. He states that a secretary to/of Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake had told them to come. He says that about 40 buses came. He further says that they came and they were provided overnight accommodation at the conference hall, adding that they were given food and drink. The youth also states that the buses contained stones and poles inside them. That is how these people pre-planned this for some time.