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Sri Lankan blasts unprecedented in scale, coordination: Ex-UN official and author

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Gordon Weiss expects tensions between various communities to heighten in the island nation

Gordon Weiss, a former senior United Nations official and chronicler of the last phase of the war between the Sinhalese-dominated government forces and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, says he is deeply shocked by the enormity of deaths and the extent of planning that went behind multiple terror blasts that ripped through the island nation on April 21. Weiss, author of The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers who was the UN spokesman in the country in those turbulent times before the capture and assassination of Tamil leader V Prabhakaran, forecasts that these strikes will create further fissures between various communities in the south-Asian nation.

He tells Open: “What is interesting is that this was obviously a highly well-organized and a very carefully planned attack. Which is evident from the planning, acquisition of the explosives, the numbers of people who must have been involved and that it took place in a country which is still very carefully monitored by national security services.” Hundreds of people were killed or injured after multiple Sri Lankan churches and hotels, including landmark ones, were hit by a string of explosions on Easter Sunday.

Weiss, who had incurred the wrath of Lankan authorities for his criticism of the “brutal” war that the forces had waged in the country just ahead of the defeat of Tamil Tigers, had written extensively about the potential of future conflict in the island that had been ravaged for decades by an ethic civil war which ended in 2009. He emphasizes, “Since its Independence, Sri Lanka has been locked in a cycle of violence that is borne by divisions between majority and minority groups. And the kind of national reconciliation that must take place post-War has not taken place yet. And many of those resentments remain, including resentment from the majority about the presence of minorities in Sri Lanka. As well as resentment from minorities. There has not been any effective national reconciliation yet.”

Talking of the Easter Sunday bombings, Weiss says the strikes were obviously targeted at a religious minority, rather than an ethnic minority. He, however, warns that tensions between communities will rise further because “the effect of these acts of violence is that a raft of conflicting conspiracy theories will resurface at a time of rising national political tensions”.

He avers without elaborating that “a number of people” might stand to gain from this incident. “Without making any sort of call about what the target was or what the motivation was for these terror attacks, the two things you can say quite clearly is firstly it targeted a religious minority and secondly it was extremely well-planned which is curious in an island that has large-scale influence of well-funded security services.”

Weiss, an Australian by birth, says that the latest terror attack is unprecedented in terms of scale, even for a country like Sri Lanka that has seen decades of civil unrest. He was spokesman for the UN when the agency sought an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by forces on Tamils, especially civilians, in 2009. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had even called for mass “May Day protests” against the call for a probe.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks that rocked Sri Lanka on the morning of April 21. Many officials within the country see these attacks as an attempt to drag the country back to the dark days of the decades-old civil war. Dignitaries from across the world have condemned the terror strikes and expressed their condolences to the Sri Lankan people.

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