COLOMBO – Sri Lanka will send troops to guard 100 key power transmission centers across the island nation, officials said Monday, a day after the worst power outage in 20 years, as the head of the state-owned utility board refused to rule out sabotage.
Sunday’s crippling power cut, the second in as many weeks, lasted about eight hours, fueling public unhappiness over a perceived lack of action by President Maithripala Sirisena’s government to avert sudden outages.
“We requested the president to provide military protection to these key positions and the president has assured us he will provide the required security,” Power Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told reporters in the capital, Colombo.
Sunday’s power interruption was the worst since a 1996 incident blamed on a drought.
Since then, Sri Lanka has ensured uninterrupted power supply to foreign and domestic investors by diversifying its sources beyond hydropower, to include power generated from thermal and coal-fired plants.
The most likely reason for Sunday’s outage could be an explosion in a transformer, said Anura Wijepala, the head of the state-owned utility board, who submitted his resignation over the incident, although it has not yet been accepted.
“I will not rule out sabotage because the repetition within two or three weeks’ time is quite similar in nature,” he said, without elaborating. “We have informed the government analysts and police to do an investigation.”
Authorities’ attention has been drawn to the possibility of sabotage, and they have asked the police to investigate, Junior Power Minister Ajith Perera said.
Just this month, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed a special panel to investigate the power failure in early March, amid speculation over a sabotage attempt.
Sri Lanka’s military, which won a 26-year separatist war seven years ago, has been largely limited to barracks and harnessed for development activities.
But the defense budget has stayed high, thanks to the large numbers recruited by the previous regime in its efforts to defeat the ethnic minority Tamil Tiger rebels.