| by Hana Ibrahim
( January 3, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Secretary Defence and Urban Development, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, made a thought-provoking address at the Colombo Municipal Council on 1 January, outlining the tough stance he will be adopting to wipe out underworld activities and drug trafficking from the Colombo city and from the whole of Sri Lanka.
It is understandable that nearly three decades of war would leave heavy scars on the social psyche of a nation. Neglected infrastructure, a questionable law and order situation and an economy that wasn’t doing all that great, do make it easy for anti-social elements such as underworld operatives and drug traffickers to cement their hold on crowded neighbourhoods with their own brand of terror and dread.
Drug dealing, abductions, unexplained death and extortions have all been par for the course in these neighbourhoods. Political and police patronage given to many of the underworld leaders and drug kingpins have helped fortify their power bases, giving them an aura of invincibility. And certain, impunity.
Given its central location in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka always had the potential to attract the unsavoury, offering a potential haven for those involved in drug trafficking and gun running. And during the war years, the LTTE took maximum advantage of this to set up lucrative trades in the North and East, using the Sea Tiger wing to bring in illegal cargo.
However, what concerns many in Colombo and the suburbs, in the post-war era, is the spurt in underworld activities that seem to be matching step for step with the breakdown in the law and order situation. What is proving to be a frightening phenomenon is the fact that weapons that were exclusively used by the law enforcement officials have ended up in hands of the underworld gangsters.
The growth of the underworld has made murder, extortion and abductions commonplace occurrences, and the business community in Colombo one of the main targets.
……………….. Summery : Play the Video ………………….
During the war, the underworld activities were considered a side business of terrorism, with many of the killings attributed to the LTTE cadres, providing the real culprits a scapegoat and an escape route. Given the disarray of the law and order situation, this was also an easy explanation to sell for the law enforcement agencies without revealing their inadequacies.
But Sri Lanka is not in a war situation any more. And as the defence establishment and the government have been drilling into us for the past three years and several months, terrorism has been routed from this country. So, the question that needs to be asked is, why has the security situation deteriorated in times of peace? And why has the law enforcement apparatus lost its teeth?
It is in this context that the message delivered by the Defence Secretary on New Year’s Day becomes significant. Instead of the bromidic wishes for peace and harmony, coexistence and economic developments, he solemnly pledged his commitment towards eradicating crime in the country and said he would adopt stringent measures to overcome the threat of the underworld in the country.
Addressing the Colombo Municipal Councillors, he sought their support to make Colombo the safest city in South Asia and said he was quite prepared to deploy the police and the army towards achieving this end. In the course of the assurance, he also mentioned the measures he has taken to develop the urban areas in his capacity as the Secretary of Urban Development.
Colombo and several other key cities in the country were neglected during the war, with military barricades, road blocks and sentry points ruining the beauty of the urban areas.
However, the efforts taken by the Defence Secretary post-war to give a facelift to Colombo city has been welcomed by the city dwellers. It is hoped his pledge to rid the city of the underworld gangs and drug traffickers meets with equal success, for without the inner cleansing, outer beauty can only amount to a pretty frosting on a rotten cake.
( The writer is the editor of the Ceylon Today, a daily based in Colombo, where this piece was originally appeared)