Various people are spreading stories to take political advantage
Behind the spread of these malicious rumours the opposition’s role is clearly visible
This government has now to tackle debts of former regime and build up the economy
The inferno in Kosgama recently had raised several questions. In this backdrop our sister newspaper Sunday Lankadeepa inviewed State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene to ascertain the causes of this destruction and the steps taken by the government to compensate those affected.
QWhat is the latest position regarding the blast at Salawa ammunition depot?
We are still continuing investigations and once it is completed we should know the cause of it and shall keep parliament and the people informed about the truth behind it.
Q According to you do you suspect it to be an act of sabotage, human error or negligence?
We can only answer all those questions after the investigations. Various people are spreading stories in order to take a political advantage. Some feel sorry. There had not been any mass scale human loss. I am thankful to the army for having controlled the damage with minimum casualties. They had acted swiftly in evacuating the people from the danger area and accommodating them in safe places. Notwithstanding all these efforts there are some who spread rumors that this is an act of conspiracy and the senior officers of the army are responsible. They had even issued statements. Therefore I can only answer your question after the investigations have been carried out.
QWhy is the army intelligence unit left out from your investigations?
No there is no such thing. We have handed over the matter to the CID, and we have no hand in the activities of the army intelligence unit. In addition to the CID the army had also deployed a separate team to investigate into this matter
QYou maintain that only one soldier died in the explosion, but certain other parties claim that there were more.
There are many who spread such rumours. Some in the opposition had felt sorry that there was only one death. We regret the position adopted by them. There had been absolutely only one death as the army officers had hastened to evacuate the soldiers from the vicinity and the people to safety. There remained only five soldiers to douse the fire. One of them died with serious injuries being inflicted on one of his legs and stomach. As you said many spread the story that a large number of soldiers had died as expected by them. They must have hoped the number of deaths to rise.Failing in their expectations they now make wild accusations.
QThere was a story that on the previous night some rehabilitated LTTE cadres were brought to this camp
These are the stories which they concoct with an ulterior motive. What is the reason for these men to have been brought into the camp. There was another story that this camp was kept open on Wesak day and people were allowed to enter without any check.
QAre these lies?
It is a complete canard. This is to show that this happened due to the negligence of the army. Spreading this type of falsehoods, some get some sort of satisfaction. They are mentally sick people. I saw on Facebook this type of stories. Some of this stuff is created purely on the whims and fancies of some opposition MPs. We are not resorting to obtain credit at this juncture, we are worried about the damages caused to the houses nearby and all our attention is directed towards rebuilding them. We are also much concerned about the damage caused to the disabled war heroes’ village where 107 houses had been damaged. After renovation the occupants can go back to these houses. The completely destroyed houses would be rebuilt. The army had already begun reconstructing them and the President and Prime Minister are directing these operations. Those who are resorting to take undue advantage from this incident politically are requested to shed all these petty accusations and cooperate with the authorities in bringing back to normalcy the situation at the earliest.
QThere is an allegation that this fire had destroyed a large number of vital documents belonging to the army intelligence unit and that was the exact aim of this explosion.
If it was necessary to destroy such documents, a fire of this magnitude was not necessary. If there had been such documents with the intelligence unit they could have obtained them as and when they wanted. They need not destroy a large ammunition dump to do that.
Q Are you aware of the number of army personnel who were at the camp on the day of the incident
I know, but it is not correct to divulge that type of information in public. Every month there is a training conducted in this camp, and also a fire fighting drill. These trainings had gone a long way in minimising the casualties in the recent calamity. As the fire breaks out the alarm gets activated and the soldiers act swiftly to take necessary security precautions. This training had come in handy and had been useful during the recent blast and helped in saving many lives. There are many rumours, but I can state with responsibility that nothing of such magnitude did occur.
QThis happened on a Sunday and it is said that this day was selected to achieve the previously mentioned purpose as there were less number of soldiers present at the camp
I wish to say again that there were blasts in armouries earlier. There was a blast in Weeraketiya and also in Vavuniya. There was much damage on those occasions. But these stories are circulating only about this blast. It may be because a new government is in power. Some charged that ISIS was behind it and some others say it is a conspiracy within the army. Behind the spread of these malicious rumours the opposition’s role is clearly visible. They should realise that this type of stories could lead to a complete breakdown in the faith of the public on the security of the country. They should think twice before spreading These types of rumours. It is an effort to humiliate the army and insult the great war heroes.
Q There is now a dialogue circulating about the removal of army camps in the north. Some are attempting to justify their claims referring to this incident.
There is no truth in that. The camps in the North would not be removed. We have observed that there were many small camps in the North. What we have thought is to remove these small camps and release the lands to the people. By this act the power of the army would not be reduced. By releasing land to the people there won’t be an issue of reduction in power.
QWhat is your opinion about having this type of large ammunition depots in areas where a large number of people live?
This had been discussed now, and the President and the Prime Minister are of the view that these ammunition stores complexes should be removed from densely populated areas. There had been about 15000 tons of ammunition in this stores. But during the past period the stocks had been reduced to about 8000 tons and the army had been moving these out to other alternative places. We have instructed them to do this early.
Q Do you mean to say that then about 8000 tons of weapons and ammunition were destroyed in this incident?
Yes and the value of it in rupees had not yet been compiled. Despite all these the army is anxious to assist all those who were affected. They had already started building houses and it is our aim to complete this early. In the newspapers it was reported that a large number of houses had been destroyed, but actually the number of houses totally damaged are much low. Anyway with the help of the army every house that had been damaged would be rebuilt or renovated.
QThe commanding officer at the Sampur navy camp had been publicly scolded by the chief minister of the East. This type of action had caused a severe demoralisation of the soldiers.
What I feel is that an unwanted incident had taken place there. Now the president and Prime Minister had stepped in to resolve the issue.
QOrders had gone from the higher ups to host the Chief Minister at a lunch or dinner
There was no such order and the issue is now over. The chief minister had tendered an apology and the invitation for a meal had come later.
QDon’t you think that a grave situation had arisen about the national security
No it is not so. There is no threat to national security. Some are trying to portray that there is an issue. Minor incidents do happen which are not in any way having any impact on national security. There are many trying to take advantage of the Salawa incident. That is how things happen in this country.
QDuring this period there were serious challenges to the government, even a no confidence motion was brought in. Is it because there are internal issues within the government?
Actually there are no issues like those that were evident during the last government. The media did not crow about them. I feel sorry for today’s media. They report when one minister says something about another, with the aim of starting a row between them . It is very sad and sometimes I hate to read these newspapers. Today newspapers do not publish what the people need. The social media has fallen to its lowest level. The language used is horrible. During the past regime there was a suppression of the media. We saw how the ministers behaved during that time but no media was brave enough to give coverage to those. But today it is different, even the slightest incident is given full publicity giving the impression that there are fights among the ministers. There are no disputes within the government.
QDo you agree that within a short spell of time people have started to protest against this government?
There had been some agitation among the people regarding the increase in the cost of living which is true. But as a government we are bent on building up the economy of the country as a whole. Only then, we can grant relief to the people. In the recent past we brought down the price of fuel, and gas and provided some relief to the people. However because of the debt trap brought on the people by the former regime that burden has also fallen on us. This government has now to tackle that issue and build up the economy. We will definitely provide the necessary relief to the people without much delay.