In the early hours of Tuesday an unidentified gang abducted two traffic policemen on duty in Kurunegala, assaulted them and shot one of them dead; the other managed to escape. If the police personnel are not safe on public roads, how vulnerable the ordinary people are goes without saying.
The motive for Tuesday’s abduction and killing has not yet been established. But, the incident ought to jolt the police into action. A policeman and his wife died violent deaths at the hands of a criminal gang dealing in drugs some months ago in Kamburupitiya. Of late, there has been a spate of high-profile armed robberies besides various other crimes. Some suspects have been taken into custody, but much more remains to be done. No serious effort has been made to arrest the alarming trend.
The crime rate usually shoots up after the conclusion of protracted armed conflicts. This country is awash with illegal arms and drugs. There are thousands of battle-hardened, trigger-happy military deserters and politically backed underworld figures who operate with absolute impunity. Hence the need for extraordinary measures to combat and prevent crime!
The police have apparently got their priorities mixed up. Preoccupied with anything but crime prevention, they are busy chasing after lesser lawbreakers and nabbing errant motorists who cross the continuous lines in the middle of narrow roads hogged by crawling buses and trucks. If a poor motorcyclist happens to stop in a no parking zone to buy a loaf of bread on his way back home, he is booked and made to cough up more than one thousand rupees or even hauled up before courts. But, political thugs who go berserk unleashing violence and brandishing firearms in full view of the police have no such problems. The guardians of the law look the other way. Remand prisons are bursting at the seams with petty thieves who have stolen bananas and coconuts while hardcore criminals enjoy freedom to carry out their sordid operations.
It was announced recently that policemen on patrol would be issued with weapons in view of threats from criminals. But, we still see unarmed police personnel on roads like the duo abducted on Tuesday; they are sitting ducks vis-à-vis dangerous parasites armed to the teeth. Small fire arms may be no match for automatic assault rifles that underworld figures carry. But, some weapon is better than no weapon in an emergency. If the police cannot protect their own personnel how could they be expected to ensure public safety?
Tiger terrorism is thankfully a thing of the past, but it looks as if the country had to be liberated from the clutches of the underworld terror. There were a few occasions when the police deployed the STF to crack down on criminal gangs and their operations yielded the desired results; the incidence of crimes such as armed robberies plummeted and most criminals went into hiding. But, those raids came to an abrupt end as the underworld pets of the powers that be happened to be targeted by crime busters. Politicians must abandon the deplorable practice of rushing to the rescue of notorious criminals when the police zero in on them if the country is to be rid of crime and narcotics. The much-maligned police, we believe, are capable of neutralising the underworld if they are given a free hand.
With criminals now targeting policemen, the need for a crackdown on the underworld is felt more than ever. Let the government resume its anti-crime operations forthwith. Unless organised criminal outfits are severely dealt with as a national priority, nobody will be safe in this country except the politicians who sponsor them.