Sri Lankan soldiers inspect the damage inside St. Sebastian’s Church where a bomb blast took place in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (Photographer: Tharaka Basnayaka/Bloomberg)

Sri Lanka Should ‘Rise Above’ Politics After Blasts, U.S. Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka’s leaders must set aside their differences to focus on the pressing security and economic challenges facing the island nation after the deadly Easter bombings, the top U.S. envoy said in an interview.

"They have to rise above the politics to address the situation at hand," Alaina Teplitz, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Already, many friends of Sri Lanka have been encouraging them to get past some of the politics and focus on the needs of the country, particularly around their economic future."

Since the deadly suicide bombings on Easter Sunday that killed 359 people, including four Americans and about 35 other foreigners, the top political leaders of the fractious coalition government have traded blame for intelligence lapses that might have prevented the tragedy.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the government received warnings but "not enough attention had been paid" and there had been a "breakdown of communication" that meant security information did not reach his office. President Maithripala Sirisena, who oversees the security forces, also pointed to “lapses on the part of defense authorities.” Sirisena tried to fire Wickremesinghe late last year but was stopped by the courts.

Meanwhile, a member of the Rajapaksa family that ruled Sri Lanka between 2005 and 2015 -- and wants to run in presidential elections scheduled later this year -- has accused the current leadership of "pure ignorance" on security issues.

"There has been a lot of political posturing and I think there are people out there who are trying to seize on this moment to take political advantage," Teplitz said. "I would encourage them to think more deeply about the victims and their families, to think about the consequences for the country."

Investor Concerns

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting the Sri Lankan government in its investigation of the "very sophisticated attack," she said. But the country’s leaders now need to pull together and make sure investors and tourists -- a big source of revenue -- feel secure enough to invest in and visit the tropical country, particularly after Sirisena’s attempt to fire Wickremesinghe last year paralyzed government.

"There was a constitutional crisis at the end of the year that certainly caused tourists and investors to pause," Teplitz said. "The government itself admits very serious intelligence lapses. The effort has to be how they address those weaknesses and shore this up for the future. As a country, it still has tremendous potential -- to be booming, frankly -- and tourism is probably a leading sector in that."

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