The Cabinet yesterday raised concerns over escalating tensions between the Muslim and Sinhalese communities in the wake of another clash on Monday (26 February) night.
A number of ministers, including members representing the Muslim community, spoke out strongly against alleged police inaction when the latest incident erupted in an eatery in Ampara town on 26 February night and later spread to other areas.
The incident was triggered by a rumour that a Muslim-owned eatery was serving members of the Sinhalese community food containing chemicals affecting their fertility leading to a clash on Monday night. Although the police was called in, the local unit had not been able to contain the situation. All units of the Ampara Police Division, along with the troops from the Special Task Force, have been deployed to contain the situation.
A mosque and several properties owned by Muslim members of the community, including several small shops close to the mosque, a street-side hotel and several vehicles were set alight by a group of men in the early hours of yesterday after an argument erupted between some men and the owner of a street-side hotel in Ampara town.
Concerned over the incident which occurred in his electoral district, Minister Daya Gamage brought the issue up for discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena during yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, informing the President that it appeared to be a well-organised attack by opposing political forces. Three of his Cabinet colleagues, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen and Mano Ganesan shared his view, and called for immediate intervention.
“Minster Gamage was the first to raise the issue. He said that this was the action of an organised group to destabilise the Government administration,” a Minister present at the Cabinet yesterday told the Daily FT.
Minister Hakeem had also said that the nature of the incident also appeared to be the work of a well-organised group as it was executed systematically.
“If the police intelligence units working in the area were not able to detect these groups and prevent such incidents from happening what is the point of such exercises?” Hakeem was quoted as asking the President at the Cabinet meeting.
Hakeem has also accused Police of inaction, allowing the group to take the area under their control without containing the situation as the incident erupted. Minister Bathiudeen also condemned the Police, prompting the President to promise the Cabinet to immediately raise the issue with the Inspector General of Police.
Calling on to the Government to provide compensation for the damage to vehicles and property, Minister Bathiudeen called on the Government to take “immediate and strict action” against those involved in the incident.
Minister Ganesan also raised concerns over the manner in which the Police in the area handled the situation stressing that if there was any issue with the restaurant then the allegations should have been formally investigated by law enforcement authorities.
“Action should have been taken by the Police to investigate that incident only and they should not have allowed things to get out of hand like this and not have waited till the situation got out of hand like this,” Ganesan was quoted as saying at the Cabinet meeting.
Tension in Ampara following Monday night clashes
Police have deployed additional Police and Special Task Force teams to contain the situation that erupted in Ampara town on Monday night while the hunt for culprits responsible for the attacks continues.
However, ministers Rishad Bathiudeen and Rauff Hakeem have both accused the Police of not taking action when first contacted after the tense situation arose in the area.
According to the Police, four shops and a mosque were attacked on Monday night and three people were injured in a clash between two groups in Ampara town. The incident is said to have been caused by a rumour concerning a restaurant serving spiked food.
“We are carrying out investigations into the incident but no arrests have been made yet,” said Police Spokesperson SSP Ruwan Gunesekara.
The Ampara Police was called into settle the dispute that erupted in the restaurant, but the law enforcement authorities were not able to contain the situation, Gunasekara said.
Later an angry mob had attacked several shops in the area with the police finding it difficult to bring the situation under control. Thereafter, police reinforcements had been rushed from nearby police stations and the mob dispersed with the assistance of the STF.
As a precautionary measure, these officers took steps to safeguard all vulnerable places of worship in Ampara town by deploying the Army, Police and the Special Task Force and the questionable food referred to the government analyst for further investigations.
Senior DIG Kapila Gunasekera of the Eastern Division said he was taking steps to arrest the members of the mob and that security would be provided to all the places of worship until the unrest subsided.
Cabinet heats up over calls to dismantle CCEM
President says CCEM takes responsibilities of Cabinet away from them
As the coalition Government resumed work following two weeks of political turmoil, tension between the two parties renewed yesterday with President Maithripala Sirisena calling to do away with the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs(CCEM) headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Meeting for the first time after the reshuffle, the Cabinet discussion yesterday heated up when the Premier opposed the idea put forwarded by the President.
Sirisena pointing out that the CCEM has effectively taken the responsibility of informed decision making away from the Cabinet, suggested that the Unit should be dismissed, a Senior Cabinet Minister told Daily FT.
When Wickremesinghe pointed out, that three ministries, National Policies, Development Strategies and Finance need in-depth consultation and coordination for certain matters, the President has suggested appointing cabinet sub committees for proposals needing further discussion as is the normal practice.
“President also reminded the cabinet of a number of projects that went belly up even after CCEM evaluation like the Volkswagen project,” another Minister told Daily FT.
“He said that it was him who intervened when state lands in Kalutara was to be given at a very low lease rate for investment projects.”
However the discussion ended without a decision on the fate of the committee responsible for evaluating cabinet proposals for approval.
The discussion ended in a stalemate, said one Minister adding that the situation has thrown the country’s administration into jeopardy where the functioning of the Cabinet has also come under crisis as the tug-of-war between the two coalition parties continue despite declarations to have patched differences.