Colombo, October 22 (NIA): With the Tamil-majority North Sri Lanka in the grip of tension over the killing of two Jaffna University students by police at a checkpoint on October 20, the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, has ordered an impartial investigation, and the five policemen involved have been arrested and remanded.
But the radical Tamil Peoples‘ Council, led by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran, has warned against the possibility of a cover up to save the police and said that the way the incident is being handled thus far erodes faith in Sri Lankan governmental institutions’ ability to render justice to the Tamil minority.
Nataraya Kajan (23) and Paunraj Sulakshan (24), riding a motorbike, had ignored an order to stop when they passed a police checkpoint in the outskirts of Jaffna at about 11.30 pm on October 20. Instead of giving them a chase on their powerful motorbikes, the police promptly opened fire killing one on the spot. The other died when the vehicle crashed.
As Kajan and Sulakshan were both students of the highly politicized Arts Faculty of Jaffna University, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) got worried about an adverse political fallout. Its leader R.Sampanthan immediately contacted President Sirisena ,who quickly ordered an impartial investigation and suspension and arrest of five cops.
The Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC) said that the incident again proves the high handedness of the Sri Lankan State in dealing with the minority Tamils. It points out that the way the police had tried to cover it up by saying that the deaths were due to an accident, clearly shows that the Tamils cannot expect justice from the institutions of the Sri Lankan state including the domestic judicial mechanism to be set up to go into war crimes charges.
Given the potential political importance of the incident, Tamil leaders came out with their comments and appeals. Rehabilitation Minister D.M.Swaminathan appealed for calm, assuring action against the culprits. The Minister of National Dialogue, Mano Ganeshan, wondered why the police shot the boys above the waist when they had been trained to aim at the legs, and why they had not used the 1000 cc motorbikes issued to them to give the errant boys a chase? Former MP and social justice campaigner, M.Chandrakumar, said that the problem of cops killing suspects arises from the the unbridled powers given to the police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran ,who is currently on tour in Europe, has been pleading with the Central government in Colombo to replace the army with civil police to maintain law and order in the hope that the police will be more sensitive to peoples’ needs. But the shooting incident at the police checkpoint shows that a police constable, like his army counterpart, can be equally inclined to use the firearms issued to him.
The incident might result in Wigneswaran’s calling for the grant of police powers to the Northern Province as per the 13 th.Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution. Though the 13 th.Amendment was enacted in 1987, it has not been implemented fully yet. Powers over the Police and Land are still with the Central government though they should have been devolved to the provinces.
Jaffna mourns the death of the two young university students Nataraya Kajan and Paunraj Sulakshan both in their early twenties
Sri Lanka police are a mono-ethnic force with the Sinhalese dominating. When posted in the Tamil-speaking North, there is a huge gulf between the police and the population due to the language barrier. In a place where there was Tamil terrorism just seven years ago, the Sinhalese police become suspicious about anyone who does not obey their order. When the Tamil young men did not respond to their call to stop, the police at the checkpoint instinctively opened fire to kill.
Jaffna and the Northern Province are now undergoing a phase of radicalization because in the last one and a half years of being in power, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime has shown very little progress in implementing its pledges to set up mechanisms to bring about post-war ethnic reconciliation.
The TNA is also blamed because it is seen as an accomplice, being the government’s chosen and loyal opposition in parliament. Students, intellectuals and the media have ganged up against the TNA and its leaders. Ironically, the leader of this movement is Chief Minister Wigneswaran, who was nominated to the post by the TNA.
Unless the Sirisena government pursues the shooting case to its logical conclusion through a quick and impartial investigation and punishes the culprits, its ally, the TNA, might suffer erosion of support in the Tamil heartland, political observers said.