Sri Lanka's President, Speaker clash over Easter attacks probe

St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (top), two weeks after the April 21 attacks. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (right) has told President Maithripala Sirisena that he will not call off the select committee for the investigation.
St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (above), two weeks after the April 21 attacks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (top), two weeks after the April 21 attacks. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (right) has told President Maithripala Sirisena that he will not call off the select committee for the investigation.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has told President Maithripala Sirisena (above) that he will not call off the select committee for the investigation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo (top), two weeks after the April 21 attacks. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (right) has told President Maithripala Sirisena that he will not call off the select committee for the investigation.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (above) has told President Maithripala Sirisena that he will not call off the select committee for the investigation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Speaker warns President against scuttling it, says public hearings over bombings will go on

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka's Parliament warned President Maithripala Sirisena not to scuttle a controversial investigation into security lapses before the Easter suicide bombings, said the Speaker's office yesterday.

The warning came after Mr 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 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 response to Mr Sirisena. "Officials are fully aware of the 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 that it will continue its public hearings.

Evidence before the 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.

Last Saturday, the President's office said he sacked his national intelligence chief Sisira Mendis, who had testified that the 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.

Mr 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. But, a senior Defence Ministry source 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 the defence minister, did not follow 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, following information from an Islamist militant in Indian custody.

A local extremist organisation and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks. Sri Lanka 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.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Sri Lanka's President, Speaker clash over Easter attacks probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe