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Sri Lanka

Bishops issue timely warning over Sri Lanka attacks

UN envoy’s visit sparks condemnation of how little has been achieved by government’s inquiry

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

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Bishops issue timely warning over Sri Lanka attacks

Relatives pay their respects at the graves of victims of the Easter Sunday bomb blast at St. Sebastian's Church, Negombo, on April 28, a week after a series of deadly bomb blasts. (Picture by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)

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Catholics in Sri Lanka are using the visit of a high-ranking United Nations official to step up their calls for the government to punish those responsible for the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

The country’s bishops have publicly denounced the inquiry into the April 21 suicide bombings which killed 258 people at three churches and three luxury hotels.

President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a three-member presidential commission to investigate the deadly attacks but it has yet to publish any findings.

The only meaningful developments in the four months since the blasts have been the resignation of former Defense secretary Hemasiri Fernando resignation and the suspension of police chief Pujitha Jayasundara.

Critics have rounded on the government and its security establishments not only for their lack of success in identifying those responsible but for not doing more to prevent the bombings in the first place — the country’s leaders were aware of possible attacks some weeks beforehand.

The bishops say they still don’t see any positive signs of progress by investigators and have yet to see any firm evidence of an inquiry even taking place.

“The people are waiting to see the results of this inquiry as was promised to them. The government is yet to give an assurance to the people that there is only one set of laws in the country, for everyone is still in fear and there is uncertainty in the minds of the people," the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka said in a statement.

“We observe that several committees have been established and their main focus appears to be to find out those responsible for the serious lapses in security.

“Even though this effort is useful, we insist that, as a matter of justice, the final aim of the inquiries should be to ascertain who the perpetrators are and who aided and abetted in any way in these dastardly acts.” 

The U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion, Ahmed Shaheed, is making a 12-day official visit to Sri Lanka from Aug. 15-26.

“I will look at how Sri Lanka promotes and protects the rights to freedom of religion,” he said.

Shaheed will also aim to identify any existing or emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the freedom of religion by all and will present recommendations aimed at overcoming such obstacles.

It is not only high-ranking clergy who have little faith in the government-appointed commissioners. One person who questioned the government’s commitment to finding the perpetrators was Hiranya Kumuduni, a Sunday school teacher in the western city of Negombo, where 93 people were killed by a bomb blast at St. Sebastian's Church.

She said that some religious leaders, including extremist Buddhist monks and politicians, were exploiting the tragedy for their personal benefit.

Kumuduni appreciated the bishops’ appeal for transparency and progress, accusing the government and opposition politicians of shamelessly trying to gain a political advantage out of it.

“They play a blame game, trying to shift responsibility to other people without finding out what really went wrong,” she said.

The government has made dozens of arrests and claimed all of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a militant group thought to have ties with Islamic State (IS).

The courts, however, have either freed or granted generous bail conditions to many of the arrested, ruling the police cases against them to be weak.

Kumuduni also felt there was no evidence of IS being directly involved. “IS has a reputation for claiming responsibility if the attacks suit their agenda,” she said. “Some religious leaders and politicians promote anti-Muslim sentiments to earn majority Sinhala Buddhist votes.”

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith recently refused to meet with presidential candidates until the investigation reports on the Easter Sunday attacks were handed over.

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