Sri Lankan Naval soldiers stand guard outside St. Anthony's Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2019.
Sri Lankan Naval soldiers stand guard outside St. Anthony's Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2019.

As it continues to reel from the impact of the deadly Easter Sunday explosions, Sri Lanka on Monday banned women from wearing face veils.

The ban came in the form of an emergency law implemented by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Officials said the move would help security forces with the identification process as the country continues to search for people responsible for the Easter Sunday explosions that targeted churches and hotels.

The U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz talked with VOA about the veil ban as well as what she considers to be the level of threat that remains in the South Asian country.

VOA: A few days ago you and others said there were still elements of terrorist organizations in Sri Lanka. You said they were all armed and ready to go and they could do harm to the people of the country. Is that still the case?

Teplitz: Well our travel advisory indicates what we know and that is that we still believe there are terrorists actively plotting. I think the good news is that there has been a lot of progress in the investigation. The Sri Lankan authorities have been successful in apprehending suspects and finding safe houses. These are obviously very positive developments with regard to the immediate safety and security in the people and the people of the island. I think the challenge when you're looking at a situation like this is that a lot of coordination has to happen to disrupt these active plots.

And then there's a lot of work that's going to have to go on behind the scenes going forward, coordination between intelligence and law enforcement focused by the government on this global terror threat. So there's always going to be a need to be vigilant. And I think even after the active plot is wrapped up the government foreign partners, everybody, is going to have to remain focused on this as a potential threat.

VOA: What has the United States done so far as far as reaction to the attacks that have taken place and what further can this country do?

Teplitz: The United States has done a couple of things. First we surged support to the government of Sri Lanka to help with the investigation and then apprehension of the of the active plotters. We have an FBI team here on the ground working hand in glove in a joint investigation with the Sri Lankan authorities. We also have been very vigilant about warning American citizens that we take seriously our obligation to protect our public and want to make sure that they have the best information possible so that they can make the best decisions about their environment.

You might have noticed that our travel advisory has been upgraded twice since this event occurred. And that we are poised of course as new information comes in, to share with the public any threat that we might perceive is there. We also have been helping American citizens who were victims of this attack. So many Sri Lankans, so many families impacted by this, and many others from the foreign community. But of course there were four Americans who lost their lives four more who were injured in this. And we did our best to support them in an hour of need.

VOA: So the Sri Lankan government with all of its recent problems is working well with you in helping to solve the problems, is that correct?

Teplitz: That's right. We have a good cooperation and they had welcome to help.

VOA:  There's a new development that Muslims in Sri Lanka will no longer be able to build their faces that under emergency law ordered by President Maithripala Sirisena that it bans all kinds of face covering so they say they can see people's identities.
Do you have any reaction to that?

Teplitz: Well the government is looking I think at a number of emergency measures.

They certainly wanted to be able to respond promptly in the wake of this attack.

We have been following their efforts in this regard and encouraging them as President Sirisena himself said to ensure that these measures are very focused and limited to the scope of this particular incident going forward.

The country had been working on revisions of its terrorism laws has been looking at other reform measures and we encourage them to continue to head in that direction.

The government has committed to, um, addressing some of the poor human rights practices of the past.

We've been encouraging them to reform their processes and approaches for the future.

I think this is even more reason why that needs to be done because respecting people's democratic rights respecting the rights of communities is something that can co-exist in a democratic society with efforts to combat global terrorism.

The Sri Lankans can make very good choices about how to approach that and the president's indication that these emergency powers would only be used to, um, focus on the perpetrators of this terrible crime, I think it's an important acknowledgement of that.

VOA: What about the division between the Sri Lankan president and the country's prime minister is that still causing problems as far as politics and programs advancing in that country?

Teplitz: Well you're aware of the constitutional crisis that the country was immersed in at the end of last year.

That crisis was resolved and the president and prime minister have been focused more intently on the needs of the nation.

We certainly encourage them to stay focused on what needs to be done to ensure Sri Lanka security and its prosperity going forward.

Clearly united leadership is going to contribute to security and prosperity.

So that's something that I think, everyone's got to be mindful of. Everybody needs to rise above the politics to a certain degree.

VOA: How did you feel when this attack occurred here you were in a beautiful country, many things to do?

What went through your mind when you heard that this had happened?

Teplitz:  Well the first thing that went through my mind with this that it has happened is what can we do to help.

We have obligations on a number of levels.

And it's a responsibility that we're certainly very proud to carry out even while we're terribly saddened by the circumstances that we sometimes have to engage in.

So our first task actually was to find out who might have been caught up in this terrible event.

We had a team, we had teams out searching the hospitals in the morgues to find American citizens who might have been killed or injured in this to make sure that we could support their families.

And then we were simultaneously engaging with our hosts here with the Sri Lankan government to see what we could do to assist and bring our resources to bear.

When something a tragedy of this kind strikes, such a senseless attack our first impulse is to see what we can do to help everybody who's been impacted.

VOA:  Any other issues that you feel we should discuss.

Teplitz: Well obviously, we have been very focused also on expressing our support and sympathy for the families of the victims in a very direct way of course supporting the American families.

But more broadly this was such a terrible and despicable act and the people who were victims of it certainly did not deserve this nor did the country here and I want to renew our commitment to pursuing terrorist groups and to pursuing them on a global level not just here in Sri Lanka.

I think that is a challenge that all nations are ready to face.

Indeed to dig in on in order to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again.