Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Wednesday he had delivered on a key election promise to rebuild the island nation’s intelligence network in the year since assuming office.
Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief won the presidency after promising to end the spread of Islamist extremism in the country following deadly bombings in April 2019 that killed more than 250 people.
“After I came into power, I appointed suitable officials in charge of the security apparatus of the country and gave them the required authority to carry out their responsibilities without any compromise,” Gotabaya said in a televised address to the nation, which marked a year in office.
“The intelligence services that had collapsed in the past were restructured and revitalised.”
Gotabaya, as he is popularly known, is the younger brother of current Prime Minister and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the two led the country to victory against separatist Tamil rebels a decade ago after a 26-year civil war.
But Gotabaya – immensely popular among Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority – has also been accused of war crimes, allegations he has denied.
Human rights groups have expressed fears of a surge in Buddhist nationalism and violation of fundamental rights under his administration.
On Wednesday, Gotabaya sought to allay such concerns by saying his administration would protect all citizens’ rights irrespective of race or religion.
His changes to the constitution, however – which give him more power – have heightened fears among the Tamil minority, analysts say.
Sri Lanka’s constitution still has “a few controversial aspects”, Gotabaya said in his speech.
“We have already appointed a committee to seek public opinion to draft a new constitution,” he said.