Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings

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Security personnel stand guard near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 24, 2019. All Catholic churches in Sri Lanka will remain closed until security improves. (AFP)
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Security personnel stand guard near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 24, 2019. All Catholic churches in Sri Lanka will remain closed until security improves. (AFP)
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Hundreds of people in Negombo, Sri Lanka, attend a mass burial on April 24, 2019 for some of the victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday. (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)
Updated 25 April 2019

Sri Lankan defense secretary resigns over Easter Sunday bombings

  • Sri Lankan police arrest three people, seize grenades and other weapons in Colombo raid
  • Authorities on Thursday revised the toll from Easter bombings down to 253, from the previous figure of 359

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told Reuters on Thursday that he had resigned, taking responsibility for the suicide bomber attacks on the country last Sunday.
He said that while there had been no failure on his own part, he was taking responsibility for failures of some institutions he headed as the secretary of defense.
He said that security agencies were actively responding to intelligence they had about the possibility of attacks before they were launched.
“We were working on that. All those agencies were working on that,” he said.

Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday revised the toll from Easter bombings down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.
The health ministry said medical examiners had completed all autopsies by late Thursday, and had concluded that several victims killed in the series of attacks had been counted more than once.
The official toll released by the police was reduced by 106 after the reconciliation of autopsy and DNA reports, the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, several arrests have been made in the ongoing manhunt for the bombers.

Sri Lanka’s former navy chief said the father of two of the Easter suicide bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Jayanath Colombage, who now is a counter-terrorism expert at the Pathfinder Foundation, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Sri Lankan police have also arrested three people, seized grenades and other weapons in a raid in Colombo.

All of Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches have been ordered to stay closed and suspend services until security improves after deadly Easter bombings, a senior priest said Thursday.

India has warned Sri Lanka of possible suicide bombings weeks before the attacks, based on “threatening” Daesh-influenced material seized from suspects in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a source with knowledge of the investigation told AFP Thursday.

A major dispute has erupted in Sri Lanka over why security services did not act over the warnings. The Sri Lankan police chief issued an alert on April 11 but it did not reach a top minister.

Several warnings were made to Sri Lanka, all at least two weeks before the Easter Sunday attacks on three churches and three hotels in which 359 people died, the source said.

India’s evidence, which included videos, was initially seized in raids in 2018 in which seven men were detained in the city of Coimbatore, media reports said.

Earlier, an explosion occurred in a town east of Colombo also on Thursday but there were no casualties, a police spokesman said.

Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said police were investigating the blast on empty land behind the magistrate’s court in Pugoda.

“There was an explosion behind the court, we are investigating,” he said, adding it was not a controlled explosion like other blasts in recent days.

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country’s west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days.
At least 359 people perished in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels. Church leaders believe the final toll from the attack on St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo could be close to 200, almost certainly making Negombo the deadliest of the six near-simultaneous attacks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims fled the multi-ethnic port an hour north of the capital, Colombo. Crammed into buses organized by community leaders and police, they left fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.
“Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses,” Adnan Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. “Right now we don’t know where we will go.”
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet despite Islamic State being a Sunni jihadist group, many of the Muslims fleeing Negombo belong to the Ahmadi community, who had been hounded out of Pakistan years ago after their sect was declared non-Muslim.
The fallout from Sunday’s attacks appears set to render them homeless once more.
Farah Jameel, a Pakistani Ahmadi, said she had been thrown out of her house by her landlord.
“She said ‘get out of here and go wherever you want to go, but don’t live here’,” she told Reuters, gathered with many others at the Ahmadiyya Mosque, waiting for buses to take them to a safe location.

“I have nothing now”
Sri Lanka’s government is in disarray over the failure to prevent the attacks, despite repeated warnings from intelligence sources.
Police have detained an unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014, in the wake of the attacks, and raids were carried out in neighborhoods around St. Sebastian’s Church.
Police played down the threats to the refugees, but said they have been inundated with calls from locals casting suspicion on Pakistanis in Negombo.
“We have to search houses if people suspect,” said Herath BSS El-Sisila Kumara, the officer in charge at Katara police station, where 35 of the Pakistanis that gathered at the mosque were taken into police custody for their own protection, before being sent to an undisclosed location.
“All the Pakistanis have been sent to safe houses,” he said. “Only they will decide when they come back.”
Two kilometers away, makeshift wooden crosses marked the new graves at the sandy cemetery of St. Sebastian’s Church, as the latest funerals on Wednesday took the number buried there to 40.
Channa Repunjaya, 49, was at home when he heard about the blast at St. Sebastian’s. His wife, Chandralata Dassanaike and nine-year-old daughter Meeranhi both died.
“I felt like committing suicide when I heard that they had died,” he told Reuters by the open graves. “I have nothing now.”
Meeranhi’s grandmother, with her head still bandaged after being wounded in the attack, was held by a relative as the first handfuls of earth were scattered upon her child-sized coffin.
Most of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are Buddhist, but the Indian Ocean island’s population includes Muslim, Hindu and Christian minorities. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
There were signs of some religious communities pulling together following Sunday’s outrage.
Saffron- and scarlet-robed Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery handed out bottled water to mourners who gathered under a baking afternoon sun.
But the town, which has a long history of sheltering refugees – including those made homeless by a devastating tsunami in 2004 – may struggle to recover from Sunday’s violence, said Father Jude Thomas, one of dozens of Catholic priests who attended Wednesday’s burials.
“Muslims and Catholics lived side by side,” he said. “It was always a peaceful area, but now things have come to the surface we cannot control.” 

 


Malaysian employers shocked, angry over fines ruling for overcrowded migrant workers’ lodgings

Updated 30 November 2020

Malaysian employers shocked, angry over fines ruling for overcrowded migrant workers’ lodgings

  • Businesses face penalties of more than $12,000 per worker for breaching new COVID-19-driven regulations

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian employers on Monday expressed their shock and anger over the government’s decision to impose a $12,277 fine for each foreign worker found to be living in overcrowded lodgings.

A number of company bosses said they were in a race against time to fall in line with the new criteria and avoid being hit with heavy penalties.

“Although many employers are rushing against time to fulfil the requirements, one of the main challenges industry players face is with the local councils,” Soh Thian Lai, president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), told Arab News.

He said local councils throughout the country were not prepared “to assist the industry with the required endorsements” to comply with the terms of the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations, and Amenities Act 446.

“This has led to the main reason for the delay (in providing more space for migrant workers),” he added.

The decision came as a surprise after the Human Resources Ministry (HRM) had set March 2021 as a deadline for all industries to comply with the act which requires employers to ensure that their workers had sufficient residential space.

Malaysian government minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, announced last week that the penalty would be imposed from Nov. 26, sending shockwaves through businesses.

Soh said to provide housing facilities for each worker, employers were being forced to create additional space.

“There is, however, a lack of suitable accommodation as there are limited hostels available. Converting shop-lots to dwelling space will take time and costs to renovate the space according to the specifications outlined in the regulations as well as meeting other requirements by local authorities,” he added.

Act 446 was fully implemented in September this year after the country’s parliament amended the previous jurisdiction which only covered housing aspects of more than 20 acres of the plantation and mining sector.

The new amendment, however, extends the rules to all employment sectors that provide housing for workers.

“Most companies are currently juggling their operations toward business recovery while trying their best to adhere to this legislative requirement to readjust the living quarters for their workers,” Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan told Arab News.

Shamsuddin said that “the spike in (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 infections at a workplace involving foreign workers may have triggered the government” to call for the full compliance of Act 446 with immediate effect.

While the government “needs to contain the new infections” among foreign workers, it was also important to “assist employers,” he added.

“Many employers still depend on various government assistance, such as wage subsidies, to remain in business.

“It was only introduced on Aug. 30 and the government then decided to enforce the act in November, so the lead time given to employers to fully comply with the act was too short.

“It is costly to upgrade accommodations on the backdrop of a decreased cashflow from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shamsuddin said.

Soh said Minister of Human Resources Saravanan Murugan had acknowledged some of the challenges involved and agreed, in principle, to a more educational approach for enforcement of the act.

“Following several taskforce meetings with the ministry to address compliance to labor laws by industry in recent months, it has been agreed that given these challenges, including the challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, industries would need some time to make the changes and improvements to the housing facilities,” he said.

The FMM said it had written to the government and reiterated a previous request “for a 12-month grace period, without the imposition of any immediate penalty.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) president, Supramaniam Shanmugam, told Arab News that 59 members of the association had expressed concerns over the “lack of time” to comply with all the requirements of Act 446.

“The Act 446 talks about the welfare of workers and one of the items to fulfil are the certificate of accommodation, which is done online, and our members have been advised to apply for it. So, what we are asking for is time,” he said.

MARGMA represents rubber glove manufacturers and employers, including leading industry players such as Top Glove and Supermax.

The HR minister and government labor department were both unavailable for comment.

The Malaysian director general of health, Noor Hisham Abdullah, recently called for employers to adhere to Act 446 “as a matter of public safety,” adding that “infections involving foreign workers needed to be addressed. The Ministry of Health urges employers to play a bigger role in tackling it.”

On Tuesday, Malaysia reported more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases, adding to the national caseload of 65,697 infections.

According to the World Bank’s estimate, Malaysia houses at least 3 million foreign workers and is the sixth-largest migrant-receiving country in East Asia.

Indonesian workers make up to 39 percent of the total migrant workers population, followed by Nepal and Bangladesh at 24 and 14 percent, respectively, according to a report published in August by the Southeast Asia office of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung foundation.

Foreign workers in Malaysia are restricted to low-to-medium skilled industries such as construction, services, plantation, agriculture, manufacturing, and domestic work.