Sri Lanka MPs clash with President over Easter attacks inquiry

Security personnel inspecting the interior of St Sebastian's Church in Negombo after it was hit by a bomb blast, on April 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's Parliament warned President Maithripala Sirisena not to scuttle a controversial investigation into security lapses before the Easter suicide bombings, the Speaker's office said on Sunday (June 9).

The warning came after President Sirisena said he would not cooperate with the parliamentary probe and would not allow defence or police officials to testify before the select committee.

The President called an emergency Cabinet meeting last Friday night to oppose the legislature's investigation into the April 21 attacks that killed 258 people, including 45 foreigners, and wounded nearly 500.

"Any public servant summoned by the PSC (select committee) is obliged to give evidence," Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said in a hard-hitting two-page response to Mr Sirisena.

"Officials are fully aware of the serious consequences if they fail to respond."

Officials at the Speaker's office said Mr Jayasuriya made it clear to Mr Sirisena that he will not call off the select committee and it will continue its public hearings.

Evidence before the parliamentary select committee, which began its publicly televised sittings late last month, has placed the President in a poor light, suggesting that he failed to act on advance warning of the attacks.

On Saturday, President Sirisena's office said he sacked his national intelligence chief Sisira Mendis who testified that the devastating attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels could have been avoided.

Mr Mendis also said the President had failed to hold regular security meetings to assess the threat from Islamic radicals who carried out the bombings.

President Sirisena's office did not give a reason for abruptly sacking Mr Mendis. Halfway through his testimony, the live telecast of the proceedings was stopped on the President's orders, official sources said.

Mr Sirisena told his police top brass last Friday that he would not allow any police, military or intelligence personnel to testify.

However, a senior defence ministry sources said that in view of the Speaker's latest warning, they will have to cooperate with the committee.

Mr Sirisena's defence secretary and police chief have suggested that the President, who is also Defence Minister, did not follow proper protocols in dealing with a specific warning from an Indian intelligence agency.

New Delhi had shared detailed information about the targets and the method of attack as early as April 4, two and a half weeks before the bombings, following information from an Islamist militant in Indian custody.

A local extremist organisation and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks. The country has been under a state of emergency since the bombings.

Mr Sirisena said last week that he met the national police chief and his top brass 13 days before the attacks but no officer raised warnings passed on by India. His own officials have denied it.

The latest crisis erupted ahead of a visit to Sri Lanka by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday.

Mr Modi arrived in Colombo for a brief stopover on his return from an official visit to the Maldives on Saturday.

Mr Sirisena suspended police chief Pujith Jayasundara and dismissed his top defence official Hemasiri Fernando after the bombings.

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