Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith yesterday told Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake that he would have had definitely called off Easter Sunday morning mass countrywide had he been informed of intelligence warning as regards possible attacks.
Cardinal Ranjith sought a clarification as to whether the Church had been deliberately deprived of timely information when Lt. Gen. Senanayake met him at the Bishop’s House, Borella in the morning.
A visibly disappointed Catholic leader asserted that Easter Sunday tragedy could have been averted. The Island had the opportunity to be present at the Bishop’s House meeting where Cardinal Ranjith strongly emphasized the responsibility on the part of the government to caution the public regarding possible threats.
The meeting took place immediately after the Catholic leader received wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Cardinal Ranjith explained that he could have prohibited Easter Sunday mass thereby saved lives.
Police headquarters yesterday increased the Easter Sunday death toll to 293 while the wounded were placed at 500.
Cardinal Ranjith said that he could have restricted the Easter Sunday service to the main mass held on the previous night.
Cardinal Ranjith raised public declaration made by Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando regarding the failure on the part of the government to take tangible action in spite of having prior intelligence warning regarding possible attacks.
Minister Fernando, while releasing the report on the Twitter by DIG Priyalal Dassanayake, said that he avoided Easter Sunday mass because of a warning given by his father warded at the Nawaloka hospital.
The top police officer identified the organization allegedly involved in the conspiracy as ‘National Thawheeth Jamaath.’ In addition to the Catholic churches, the Indian High Commission in Colombo was named as the other target.
New Delhi is believed to have shared some information regarding the extremist plot with the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka has already enhanced security at the Indian High Commission. India maintains a strong security contingent in Colombo to meet any eventuality.
Lt. Gen Senanayake met Cardinal Ranjith after attending a special session of the National Security Council where the government discussed ways and means to meet daunting security challenge.
At the onset of the deliberations, Cardinal Ranjith didn’t mince his words when he declared that Easter Sunday tragedy could have been averted.
Cardinal Ranjith, while calling for no holds barred investigation into the attacks, emphasized the responsibility on the part of the government to inform the public of security developments.
His Eminence underscored the pivotal importance of maintaining powerful intelligence services to ensure safety and security of the nation. Referring to Israeli, US, Russian and British Intelligence Services, the Catholic Leader pointed out Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to jeopardize its security by weakening its intelligence services.
The outspoken leader of the Church regretted the public having to undergo untold hardships again a decade after the conclusion of the war.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May ten years ago.
Cardinal Ranjith and Lt. Gen. Senanayake also discussed the impact of accountability issues having on post-war security operations.
Lt. Gen. Senanayake acknowledged the difficulties experienced by the Army for want of required legal cover for the deployment of troops. The Army Chief revealed that he raised the issue with what he called political authorities at the NSC meeting earlier in the day.
The media was asked to leave the meeting to enable them to further discuss matters.
Having met Cardinal Ranjith, Gotabaya Rajapaksa told The Island at the Bishop’s House how those in authority had neglected national security. Rajapaksa said that for want of swift and decisive action on the part of political and security leaders, security was at stake.
Following the closed door meeting with Cardinal Ranjith, Lt. Gen. Senanayake explained how lack of coordination among various branches of the security forces and services hampered security operations.
The Army Chief acknowledged that the military lacked legal authority to operate in the absence of an Emergency.
Lt. Gen. Senanayake said that the entire gamut of issues was discussed including ways and means of averting another 1983 or Digana type violence.
According to him, the discussion centered around giving the legal authority to the military to tackle the crisis.
The Army Commander explained that in the absence of an Emergency declaration, the military couldn’t operate freely though officers and men could be deployed in support of the police at their request.
Lt. Gen. Senanayake acknowledged that overall the Easter Sunday was nothing but an intelligence failure though he refrained from pointing finger at any party.
Responding to a query, the Army Chief said he would welcome the reintroduction of emergency at least temporarily to tackle the crisis.
Asked whether those involved in Easter Sunday carnage had been involved with any foreign group, Lt. Gen. Senanayake said that such a scenario couldn’t be ruled out. The Army Chief confirmed a definite link between the attackers and those responsible for running a ‘safe house’ at Wanathavilluwa.
The police located the hideout following extremist attacks on Buddhist statues in the Mawanella police area early this year.
Lt. Gen. Senanayake said that Cardinal Ranjith was also requested to restrict movements pending stabilization of the situation.
The government provided security to the Bishop’s House both in and outside the premises.