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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Police indifference virtual ‘complicity’ in chief monk’s killing

Slain: Ven. Metihagatenne
Wimalawansa Thera

Ven. Wimalawansa Thera complained to even President, defence secretary about death threats to him
 A monk who saw the killing explains political thuggery at police station and the dispute that led to the slaying
Ven. Metihagatenne Wimalawansa Thera, the slain chief incumbent of Sunandopanandaramaya in Moratuwa, wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in October last year that his life was under threat from a local politician and that the area police were not acting on his complaints.

With his allegations continuing that his complaints were not investigated, the chief monk also attached a complaint by the Moratuwa Divisional Secretary to the District Secretary about a threat from the local politician – Deputy Mayor for Moratuwa Sujith Pushpakumara. The monk had lodged seven complaints to the Moratuwa police.

Nearly four months later, last Sunday, he was brutally murdered outside his temple.Ven. Metihagatenne Wimalawansa Thera made the last of the complaints to the Moratuwa Police that evening and he was returning to the temple, when a mob of 15 men armed with swords, knives, clubs and bottles set upon him.

“The mob surrounded the car and attacked us. The driver was pulled out and assaulted. I got out of the car and ran, knowing they were going to attack us,” Ven Liyangahawela Gannaratana Thera who travelled with the monk told us when we met him at a temple in Katukurunda.

“I hid behind a wall and saw what was happening. They grabbed the chief monk by his robe. He freed himself and ran in his under-robe (adanakadya), but they caught up with him, put him down and cut him with their swords,” Ven. Gannaratana Thera said.

He said the killers left shouting obscenities, while waving the robe. They shouted, “Get ready for the cremation of the monk”.

The rift between the chief monk and the supporters of Moratuwa Deputy Mayor Sujith Pushpakumara took a turn for the worse in July last year when, the UPFA politician let an alleged ganja seller to build a house on the temple land under his protection.

“On July 16, the chief monk visited the Moratuwa police station and lodged a complaint against this illegal construction, but no action was taken by the police due to threats,” Ven. Gannaratana said.A second complaint was lodged on July 26.
 “The situation began to deteriorate. The Deputy Mayor and his gang broke down the fence around the temple. This prompted the chief monk to lodge another complaint,” he said.

As there had been no response from the police, the chief monk complained to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Western Province) Sumith Edirisinha, and on his directions to Assistant Superintendent T. M. Samudrajeewa. The matter was first referred to the mediation board and thereafter to courts, as the parties could not reach a settlement.

On August 28, the deputy mayor allegedly led a gang into the temple precincts and forcibly built a house for a supporter, Randima Nuwan Ratna Fernando. They not only built the house in one day, but also had a party the same night. They celebrated by lighting crackers and throwing it into the temple premises. Another complaint was filed, Ven. Gannaratana Thera said.

He said that following this complaint, an inquiry was held at the Headquarters Inspector’s (HQI) office but the deputy mayor and about 100 of his supporters stormed the police station and threatened the chief monk demanding that he withdraw the complaint.

“The mob had abused the monk in front of the HQI, and threatened the monk with death, but police took no action against them. Only a sub inspector intervened and tried to control the deputy mayor while the HQI left saying he had to attend a meeting. Thereafter, the mob blocked the chief monk’s vehicle, preventing him from leaving the police station for more than an hour, until two other officers intervened and got the monk out,” the monk said.

Ven Gannaratana Thera said the chief monk was not against the area people, but he opposed the moves to illegally acquire the temple land by some people, including those involved in the drug trade. The chief monk also wrote to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on September 25, and thereafter, to President Mahinda Rajapaka on October 11.

 “We asked for security, but the police turned a deaf ear. Even on that fateful day, when the chief monk pleaded for security, there was no response from the police,” Ven. Gnanaratana Thera alleged.

Hours after the killing, two of the suspects allegedly involved in attack, were also killed and their bodies dumped in Bandaragama, close to a bridge on the main road. One them was Randima, who put up the house in the temple land and had a party. The other was his uncle Sujith Fernando who was recently released from jail.

Incidentally, Randima’s grandfather, Sumathipala Fernando, was hanged decades ago for the killing of former Moratuwa Mayor T.L.C. Peiris. He poured petrol on the mayor and set him on fire in the same temple premises where the monk was killed, the Sunday Times learns.

The deputy mayor and six other suspects were arrested and remanded till February 14 by Moratuwa Additional Magistrate Purnima Paranagama. Residents objected to the murdered suspects’ burial in the area cemetery, forcing their family members to look for an alternative location. They tried to bury them in Nagoda, Kalutara, but the Pradeshiya Sabha refused permission saying the court order was to conduct the burial at Egodauyana in Moratuwa.

A senior police officer involved in the investigations said they were looking for more suspects while three swords allegedly used in the killing were recovered.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) which is handling the investigations say a separate investigation is underway on the killing of the two suspects.

Asked why the police did not act on the slain monk’s complaints, Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said that of the seven complaints two were investigated and cases filed in the courts while the others were referred to the mediation board.

But angry residents ask why serious complaints about death threats were directed to the mediation board.By Damith Wickremasekara


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