Majority of recent shootings are related to drug trade wars and settling of old scores says Police Spokesman; mostly unidentified bodies washing up in beaches due to death by drowning have no indication of murder or assault injuries.

By Marianne David

Several incidents of people being shot dead and dead bodies washing ashore along the Colombo coastline, especially at Galle Face, have been reported in Sri Lanka in recent weeks, leading to the country being engulfed in a climate of fear and indicating a breakdown in law and order.

Shooting incidents in the last two weeks alone have resulted in 11 deaths since 26 July – seven dead in shootouts in the last week of July, one on 2 August, another two on 4 August, and one yesterday (6) afternoon.
According to the Police, nearly 20 shooting incidents have been reported in Sri Lanka from 30 May to date, leaving 22 individuals dead.

Drug-related gang wars

Gun-related violence has been on the rise, with many of the incidents connected to gang warfare, while some have been attributed to disputes among families and friends.

“We are conducting investigations into these incidents. We have still not been able to apprehend the suspects or find the weapons,” Police Spokesman and Attorney-at-Law SSP Nihal Thalduwa told The Sunday Morning, noting that most of the incidents were related to illegal drugs and organised criminals connected to the illicit drug trade.

Law and Order Minister Tiran Alles speaking to The Sunday Morning confirmed that drug-related incidents had been on the rise and steps were being taken to bring the situation under control. “I don’t think I should tell the media the kind of steps we are going to take, but of course we are taking steps to control this,” he asserted.

Commenting further, the Minister said: “There has been a rise in drug-related incidents. We know the background, we know the suspects in every single case; I have a complete file on this. It’s just a case of finding the culprits – in 99% of the cases the main culprits are overseas and they hire shooters to get rid of someone here.”
“In relation to yesterday’s (4 August) shooting at the Mount Lavinia Courts, all the details have been identified. We know who did it, who was going to do it, all of that,” he added, saying that the Special Task Force (STF) had provided protection up to the gate but the incident had taken place inside the Court premises.

Settling of old scores

While the State of Emergency that is currently in place amid the prevailing crises has clearly not deterred gang warfare given the spate of shootings reported – despite expectations of enhanced security under Emergency conditions – SSP Thalduwa said the Emergency was mainly aimed at ensuring essential services would operate smoothly.

“The Emergency is in place, but these incidents are not sudden or related to that. Organised criminals are using the ongoing crises to their advantage. Investigations reveal that most of the incidents are connected to old problems – these killings are a settling of old scores,” he asserted.

In the most recent incidents reported on 6 and 4 August, four incidents of gun-related violence took place. Yesterday a man was killed in a shooting incident in Gampaha in the afternoon. On 4 August in the afternoon a person opened fire at the Court premises in Mount Lavinia, with no one injured. That same night, a 40-year-old man was shot dead in a restaurant in Ahangama, while a 35-year-old man was shot dead in Lunugamvehera area following a family dispute.

Several shootings also took place end-May to early June, with six people shot dead in separate incidents in Kalutara, Galle, Tangalle, Pettah, Mutwal, and Panadura.

Climate of fear

Commenting on the prevailing climate of fear, SSP Thalduwa said that members of the general public had not been attacked in these shooting incidents, nor had there been any collateral damage: “All the incidents have been contained within their groups. No harm has been done to people who are not connected to these gangs.”

The Police Spokesman also asserted that the Police was seriously looking into the situation. “While we are also engaging in duties relating to fuel stations, gas delivery, and ongoing protests, we have released Intelligence officers and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers from those duties to investigate these incidents urgently to bring the situation under control,” he said.

Breakdown in law and order condemned

Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law Upul Kumarapperuma vehemently condemned the current state of affairs, asserting that the Government should be held responsible for the breakdown in law and order.
“The public is extremely affected. If you can see Chicago-style murders everywhere in the country, that means there is no rule of law in the country. The Government should be held responsible, he told The Sunday Morning.

Emphasising that the Government should immediately restore the safety and security of the people, he asserted that a main component of rule of law was that people could not live in fear.

“However, there is a prevalent fear psychosis. At the very least the Government should have initiated investigations into these incidents, but nothing has happened. The public is totally unaware and clueless about what is happening in the country. See what happened on Thursday; the shooting took place inside the courthouse. This is like an uncivilised society and people cannot live in this type of society. The Government should take immediate action.”

Dead bodies washing ashore

Further compounding the climate of fear, nine bodies have washed up on the Colombo coastline this year. According to the Police, several of them remain unidentified at the mortuary to date.

Commenting on the bodies that have washed ashore on the Colombo coastline in recent weeks, SSP Thalduwa said there were no visible wounds on any of the bodies to suspect foul play. “There are several unidentified bodies in the mortuary. None of them indicate murder or assault injuries,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Minister Alles said that yearly records showed that similar incidents and bodies washing up did not necessarily mean a connection to crimes.

“In the case of one body that came to Galle Face, the father himself came and gave evidence at the inquest and said that there was a small issue at home. With the others, we have not even been able to identify them yet and until then we won’t know if the deaths were due to any criminal activity,” the Minister added.

Yesterday (6), the body of a man of around 35-40 years old washed ashore on the beach in Wattala, with his hands and legs tied. Police could not be contacted for comment in this regard.

Meanwhile, three dead bodies washed ashore on the Colombo coastline between 26 July and 1 August. Of the two bodies that washed ashore at the Galle Face beach, the body that washed ashore on 30 July had been identified as that of an 18-year-old youth from Pannipitiya.

“In the case of the young boy, there had been an altercation at home and he had been in a disturbed mental state and left home. His body was identified and claimed by his family. Autopsy reports showed there was nothing to indicate murder or assault injuries. The cause of death was mentioned as drowning,” said SSP Thalduwa.

The second body, that of a man whose age has been estimated at around 40, remains unidentified to date. Police said the body had been transferred to the National Hospital in Colombo and is now at the mortuary there.

On 26 July, the body of an unidentified male, around 35-40 years old, was discovered on the Wellawatte beach.

People urged to be careful

SSP Thalwuda attributed the rise in drowning incidents to people’s carelessness in water bodies, despite repeated warnings by Police.
“People were limited to their homes due to Covid and the fuel crisis, but whenever able they go on trips and bathe in various water bodies with their families. Many drownings have taken place due to their carelessness; this is what most of the inquiries have revealed. The Police has carried out many awareness programmes on the dangers of bathing in unknown water bodies.”

Courtesy:Sunday Morning