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Sri Lankan Church skeptical of opposition poll promise

The main opposition and a left-leaning party assure Cardinal Ranjith of an international probe into the Easter Sunday attack
Justin Welby (center), Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (right) pay homage to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings during a visit to St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on Aug. 29, 2019.

Justin Welby (center), Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (right) pay homage to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings during a visit to St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on Aug. 29, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 19, 2024 12:07 PM GMT
Updated: April 19, 2024 12:18 PM GMT

Church leaders and rights activists in Sri Lanka are skeptical of a promise by opposition parties to ensure an international probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings ahead of presidential polls this year.

The left-leaning Peoples' Liberation Front (JVP), which presented its proposals to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo on April 18, suggested a fresh probe into the deadly attacks.

The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Sajith Premadsa has also come up with a comprehensive mechanism to probe the terror attack. It handed over its proposals earlier to the prelate who heads the Colombo archdiocese.

According to the proposal by the SJB, seen by UCA News, the party plans to set up a special commission within two months if voted to power.

It promises to have two foreign judges and one foreign investigator in the proposed panel to probe the simultaneous bombings. 

“A permanent office of Scotland Yard/ Federal Investigation Bureau [FBI] will be established to work in tandem with the local investigation," the SJB document said.

The JVP-led electoral alliance, National Peoples'Power (NPP), included setting up a similar body in its seven-point proposal.

Cardinal Ranjith has been seeking an international probe after being let down by successive Sri Lankan governments.

Addressing a press briefing on April 17, Cardinal Ranjith said he was "cheated" by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who assured him to conduct an impartial probe into the Easter Sunday attacks soon after he took office.

The perpetrators are still at large nearly five years after the bombings that hit three churches and three high-end hotels in the capital Colombo on April 21, 2019, killing 270 people from more than 38 nations.

"We have seen and heard many such assurances in the past. Had politicians implemented what they assured, the country wouldn't be in this situation now," noted Father Julian Patrick Perera, parish priest of St. Anthony's Church in Kollupitiya on the outskirts of the capital.

Since this year is going to be a critical election year, it is natural for parties to woo voters. We have to wait and see "how far they can go to implement them," the priest stressed

Opposition parties are trying to attract significant Catholic votes in the Buddhist-majority nation of 22 million people. Catholics make up 7.4 percent of the total population, Perera observed.

Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based human rights activist, expressed skepticism over the proposals, citing the past track record of the opposition after the 26-year-old civil war from 1983 to 2009.

During the struggle with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),  the Sri Lankan government is accused of committing many grave human rights violations. 

According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone, while other independent reports estimated the number of civilian deaths exceeded 100,000.

The opposition stood against an international probe into wartime atrocities, terming it as "foreign interference” in domestic affairs.

Few opposition leaders backed the demand of Tamil-speaking political parties for an international investigation, he noted.

“No one supported them then," he recalled.

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