Tough cops torment troublesome politicos
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Policemen were delighted that a colleague stood his ground and prevented a ruling party politician from taking the law into his own hands. Several expressed their respect for the man who set an example by refusing to take an illegitimate order, fired at his would-be-killer, not to kill to disable him for the time being.
"It was a morale booster," a constable said, "Wijayatilake mahattaya did the unthinkable." His tough action would compel politicians and their supporters to think twice before raiding a police station, he said, expressing disappointment that they did not have more officers like him.
Politicians were not happy. They were of the view the police should not act aggressively. They want the top government leadership to prevent similar incidents.
What would have happened if the politician suffered fatal injuries when the policeman fired at him? "It was an unprecedented situation and had to be tackled that way," a senior policeman said referring to the Kahawatte shooting on the night of April 10. suspect stormed the police station with several sidekicks demanding the immediate release of a man held in connection with a mob attack on a private passenger bus. Armed with a foreign made hand grenade, the politician ordered the IP to let his man go."
The politicians henchman was arrested after a group of persons led by him attacked the bus which was on its way to Embilipitiya from Colombo. The attack followed a heated argument between the driver of the bus and the attackers travelling in a three-wheeler.
The politician repeatedly questioned the right of the police to act against his supporters. He was furious the police chose to ignore a powerful local politician with considerable muscle and a tough guy reputation.
"My subordinate had no option but to open fire in self-defence," the officer said, adding that no disciplinary action would be taken against the IP.
"It was obvious the IP opened up with his side-arm (revolver) to prevent the suspect from throwing the hand grenade. If the suspect succeeded in detonating the grenade the blast would have killed both the IP and the attacker," he explained. Police headquarters backs the officer concerned.
The politician suffered gunshot injuries and was rushed to the Ratnapura government hospital around midnight. A magistrate who visited the suspect later remanded him till Monday (21).
The police is keen to establish the politicians links with persons connected to the illegitimate weapons trade. From where did he acquire a hand grenade? Did he have any other weapons? Who was his political master representing the Ratnapura district?
The officer responded: "We are in the process of investigating the case. It is no secret that even a T-56 assault rifle can be acquired for a merely Rs 7,000 and a hand grenade for Rs. 1,000-1,500."
Wijayatilaka joined the department soon after the 1971 insurgency. He had served as a police constable but re-enlisted as a Sub Inspector in 1984 and served in several parts of the country including Nuwara Eliya, Hambantota, Gampaha, Ratnapura, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Colombo before taking over as the officer-in-charge of the Kahawatte police station last August.
Police alleged that the suspect Pradeshiya Sabha member had been involved in a spate of incidents over a period of time.
The recovery of the grenade has prompted the military to inquire into his activities. An officer from the nearby Kuruwita army base had visited the Kahawatte police station to make inquires. Police said: "The officer identified the grenade as among the types used by the army. There is intense speculation that the politician is also in touch with several hoodlums including army deserters.
The CID has initiated a separate investigation. CID officers have already recorded the statements of Wijayatilake and several other officers who were present at the scene of the shooting.
The incident, the second involving a ruling party politician in the Ratnapura district and the latest in a spate of such incidents in other parts of the country, had embarrassed the top government leadership. Over the past few months government politicians and in one case the wife of a minister grabbed front-page headlines in national newspapers and the electronic media.
A minister also accused the bodyguards of a colleague of opening fire during clashes between two SLMC factions at St. Andrews College, Puttalam. They clashed as police made a desperate bid to bring the situation under control. Shots were fired to the air as bodyguards, some in plainclothes, almost dragged ministers to the safety of their vehicles.
Their high-handed actions reminded the people of the way President Chandrika Kumaratunga allowed her ministers, provincial councillors and other supporters to take the law into their own hands. Her inability to control her people led to a total breakdown in law and order ultimately leading to the massacre of ten young men at Udathalawinna on election day in December 2001.
PA politicians went on the rampage at that time and the top leadership allowed them to do as they pleased as a part of the strategy to silence the opposition and weaken the police. UNP leaders repeatedly assured the people that they would not permit politicians to repeat such antics. But sadly, one year after the parliamentary elections, they have forgotten everything. The UNPs failure to act on the first few incidents has resulted in a spate of high-handed actions but unfortunately no visible disciplinary action has been taken to bring the situation under control. Partymen have been allowed to violate laws with impunity.
Retired senior DIG H. M. G. B. Kotakadeniya said: " I am delighted a junior policeman did the right thing. The way the Kahawatte OIC handled the armed politician inspired confidence among the people. Police headquarters must not hesitate to take his side and prevent politicians from interfering in the ongoing investigations into the incident."
He stressed that nobody including criminally inclined politicians must be permitted to walk to a police station with arms. "I fully endorse the officers fearless action," he said, adding that the police top brass should take advantage of the incident to inspire policemen to act without fear. He added: "It would be interesting to see whether police headquarters would commend the policeman."
Successive governments have allowed various politicians to take the law into their hands, he said, saying the top leadership continued to tolerate these elements who play a pivotal role in their political campaigns. He said: "Both major parties need thugs. Over a period of time they have become powerful with the help of army deserters and other undesirable elements involved in organised crime.
The recent abortive bid made by ruling party supporters to rescue a group of prostitutes detained by the Wennappuwa police has underscored the urgent need to take action. It would not be possible to discipline supporters of political parties unless the parties themselves act against members irrespective of their standing. The UNPs vow made during the last campaign to discipline its members has almost become a joke with members, their henchmen and in some cases wives allowed to go on the rampage.
Policemen at Wennappuwa set an admirable example. Despite being out-numbered, the few policemen at the Wennappuwa station fought back. They prevented the gang from seizing a T-56 assault rifle. A policeman said: "They wanted to take charge of a weapon and then force the police to release the prostitutes from the cell. But policemen exchanged blows with the gangsters and ultimately succeeded in capturing three of them. That proved our case."
The extraordinary way the police handled the situations at Wennappuwa and Kahawatte proved beyond any doubt that there are good policemen who will not be cowed by toughs clothed with political backing. It would not be an easy task to act on complaints against ruling party politicians. The OICs in charge of the stations must be congratulated for acting in the best interests of the public despite immense threat to their careers as well as their lives.
In this context it would be interesting to remind the police of their oath of honour: "On my honour, I promise that, I will never betray my profession, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our action in terms of the code of ethics. I will always uphold my country, the laws and the Sri Lanka police force I serve."
Now it would be imperative that the police top brass stand by their men who risked all by acting against rogue politicians and take disciplinary action against policemen who failed in their job.
Police said that some politicians have become a nuisance. The situation has been worsened by the attitude of some policemen, particularly the top brass who play politics with everything including the careers and the lives of the men under them.
A powerful section in the government recently made a desperate bid to get a police officer transferred out of Puttalam. His crime was relentlessly pursuing an investigation into recent killings in the area and refusing to take orders from local politicians. He remains at his post as his opponents continued to press for his transfer.
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