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 Post subject: Kidnappings, Mysterious abductions Return to Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 4:58 pm 
Kidnappings Return to Haunt Long Ethnic War in Sri Lanka

Men and women are being grabbed from their homes, sometimes after dark, sometimes in broad daylight. The abductions are a terrifying sideshow in Sri Lanka’s newly revived ethnic conflict, and they contain eerie echoes of the horrors of a generation ago, when this island nation achieved notoriety for tens of thousands of disappearances.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times / Published: November 7, 2006



COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Like a returning ghost, a rash of mysterious abductions has come to haunt this country once more.

Men and women are being grabbed from their homes, sometimes after dark, sometimes in broad daylight. Ransom is demanded in some cases; in others, political intimidation seems to be the point. A few have been freed, but corpses have also turned up. With rare exceptions, the crimes remain unsolved.

The abductions are a terrifying sideshow in Sri Lanka’s newly revived ethnic conflict, and they contain eerie echoes of the horrors of a generation ago, when this island nation achieved notoriety for tens of thousands of disappearances.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government has been locked in battle with Tamil separatist guerrillas. A new menace has come in the form of a breakaway Tamil rebel faction, widely accused of being allied with the government and — say kidnapping victims lucky enough to tell their tales — of having a hand in the abductions.

The government denies having any link to the group, called the Karuna faction, and describes the latest abductions as a law-and-order problem that it can tackle.

It is difficult to know who is responsible, or exactly how many people have been seized.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it received more than 350 reports of disappeared persons through late October. The National Human Rights Commission logged 419 such complaints between last December and September.

A private human rights advocacy group, called Home for Human Rights, has documented 203 cases of missing persons in the first nine months of this year, using newspaper clippings and other reports. It lists 965 more extrajudicial killings, some of whose victims might also have been abducted.

The victims come from all walks of life: a radio reporter, a university dean, a fish trader. For the most part, they are Tamil, the country’s main ethnic minority. Many of the abductions have been carried out in government-controlled territory — sometimes in the heart of this highly fortified capital, at other times in the north and east, close to military installations. Some of those kidnapped have won release only after their families appealed to the highest echelons of the state.

A white van appears repeatedly in their recollections: it is the iconic symbol of the late 1980’s, when white vans were used in a wave of abductions as the government fought a violent leftist insurrection.

Despite the official denials, the abductions have spread a cloud over the administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse, including a recommendation by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, to dispatch foreign monitors to investigate rights abuses here.

[Instead, on Nov. 6, Mr. Rajapakse’s government announced formation of a government commission of inquiry, to be aided by foreign observers. Ms. Arbour’s office cautiously welcomed the plan but warned of the need to “establish not only individual responsibility for crimes, but the broader patterns and context in which they occur.”]

The spike in rights abuses corresponds to the swift deterioration of a 2002 cease-fire between the Sri Lankan military and the ethnic rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The rights record of the Tamil Tigers has hardly been exemplary. They have been repeatedly accused of abductions, including of children whom they draft into military service. The rebels are also implicated in a rash of assassinations, in particular attacks on ethnic Tamils who work with the state.

The terror of this war has grown ever sharper with the emergence of the Karuna faction, which broke away from the Tamil Tigers.

Sathasivam Kumararatnam, the fish trader, was packed into a white van on a Thursday morning in late September from a street corner near his house. His captors, he said, pistol-whipped him, blindfolded and gagged him, bound his wrists and took his cash.

He was beaten and interrogated about his links to the Tamil Tigers. His family was then pressed for nearly $10,000 for his release. The Kumararatnams bargained his captors down to half that amount, and when a courier came to pick up the ransom, Mr. Kumararatnam’s first-born son, Ravindran, beat him to a pulp. He also forced a confession out of him. “I’m with the Karuna faction,” Ravindran said he heard him say.

The police confirmed that a man arrested in connection with Mr. Kumararatnam’s kidnapping had confessed to links to the rebel faction. They gave no further details.

His captors have since released Mr. Kumararatnam. But he is not yet free. He still receives threatening phone calls, he says. “This time, we will kill you,” the callers tell him.

The political nature of many of the abductions, even in cases where the kidnappers’ identities are hard to pin down, seems clear.

Nadaraja Kuruparan, a Tamil radio reporter, said he was not asked for a single rupee after he was yanked from his car one early morning in August. He was held overnight at what appeared to be a private house, he said, and told he would have to “clarify” some of his reports. He was released on the outskirts of Colombo the following day, and given taxi money to return home.

The government had previously warned the station about Mr. Kuruparan’s popular talk show, on which he had interviewed a Tamil Tiger leader this year. Since his kidnapping, he has decided to take the talk show off the air.

In another case, Balasingam Sugumar, the dean of arts at the main public university in Batticaloa, in the east, was plucked from his house and detained for 10 days, despite his family’s quiet efforts to buy off his captors, the family said.

In exchange for his release, his abductors demanded the resignation of a senior university administrator, whom they accused of having links to the Tamil Tiger rebels. It remains a mystery how the white van that came to get him on a Saturday night in late September managed to pass through the military checkpoints that sit on both ends of his road.

His family says they do not know what ultimately led to Mr. Sugumar’s release, only that they reached out to representatives of each of the warring parties, including President Rajapakse, who promised to investigate.

Mr. Sugumar refused to be interviewed. [He has since fled the country, his family said.]

For now, there seems to be little consensus within the government on who is behind the abductions, let alone what to do about them.

A senior negotiator for the government, Palitha T. B. Kohona, said the kidnappings represented a law-and-order challenge for the state. “We would like to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “We will intensify investigations if necessary.”

Gotabaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, who also serves as defense secretary, said in late October that “lots of people” had been apprehended in connection with the abductions. But he did not have details on how many and in what period.

His claim was contradicted by a retired judge whom the president appointed to look into the abductions. The judge, Mahanama Tilakaratne, said the police had made virtually no arrests. He also said he believed many of the recent abductions were a result of personal grudges and had little to do with the ethnic conflict.

By way of example, he took out the file of one victim and pointed out that he was suspected of an extramarital affair. The judge said he could not share details of any other cases.

Many of those who disappeared a generation ago are still unaccounted for. Their faces stare out from a simple memorial erected on the outskirts of Colombo. Once a year, their families come to lay flowers.

In late October came a weeping father, W. A. W. Weerasinghe, to remember his son, Krishantha, who was stuffed into a white van one afternoon more than 16 years ago and has not been heard from since.


Along with dozens of other parents, Mr. Weerasinghe, 68, laid flowers and wept. “Disappearance is a crime against humanity,” reads a tablet at the base of the memorial. “Let us not allow it to happen again.”

At the time of those disappearances, President Rajapakse was an opposition lawmaker and a human rights activist whose colleagues were among the thousands abducted and killed. Nine months after Mr. Weerasinghe’s son disappeared, Mr. Rajapakse headed to Geneva to draw the attention of the United Nations to human rights abuses in his country, carrying with him reams of files on missing persons.

According to human rights groups and news reports from that time, the Sri Lankan police seized the documents at the airport.

Shimali Senanayake contributed reporting.

Related Reports:
:arrow: Day of the disappeared - October 27

 Post subject: Protest against killing and abductions in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 5:27 pm 
Protest against killing and abductions in Sri Lanka

At Kottawa, 20 kilometres from Colombo, David Vikneswaran, 35, and his wife Thirukeswary Vikneswaran, 30, were kidnapped October 25. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found near Kottawa on the same day. Both were teachers at a private Montessori school. That night Regi Balananthan, 30, was seized at Aluthmawatha in Colombo city and shot dead. His body was dumped on the roadside in the Ragama area.

By S. Jayanth
@ WSWS / 7 November 2006

Several hundred people took part in a protest in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo last Wednesday against the country’s rising number of abductions and murders. Most victims have been young Tamils and are believed to have been abducted or killed by the military and its paramilitary allies as it intensifies the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Many of the protesters were relatives and carried pictures of those who had been abducted. They shouted slogans including “the government is responsible for the abductions” and “give us back the disappeared”. The rally at Fort railway station in central Colombo demanded that the government end the abductions and investigate the cases of hundreds of missing and murdered people. It was organised by the Committee for Tracing the Abducted—a coalition of Tamil parliamentarians and antiwar groups.

The government and the military have denied any responsibility for the killings and disappearances, but the evidence of eyewitnesses and released abductees points to the involvement of the security forces. The assailants have been dressed in plain clothes, armed with sophisticated weapons and came in white vans. The use of white vans was a hallmark of the army’s death squads in the late 1980s when it unleashed a reign of terror, killing thousands of rural Sinhalese youth.

Hundreds of young people have been killed or abducted this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross has received more than 350 complaints of abductions throughout the country over the past 10 months. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission has received 419 complaints in the nine months up to September.

There have been at least 38 abductions in Colombo and nearby areas this year. Of these cases, 12 murders have been confirmed. The city and surrounding suburbs are heavily patrolled by security forces which have checkpoints on all of the major roads. Yet none of the abductions has been stopped nor those responsible arrested. The only conclusion that one can draw is that the culprits were known to the military and allowed through the roadblocks.

At Kottawa, 20 kilometres from Colombo, David Vikneswaran, 35, and his wife Thirukeswary Vikneswaran, 30, were kidnapped October 25. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found near Kottawa on the same day. Both were teachers at a private Montessori school. That night Regi Balananthan, 30, was seized at Aluthmawatha in Colombo city and shot dead. His body was dumped on the roadside in the Ragama area.

The most recent cases in the capital include the disappearance of cab driver Sakthivel Thiagarajah, 25, from Grand Pass in central Colombo on October 28. His vehicle was later found at Peliyagoda, near Colombo, abandoned. On the same day, a young Tamil woman from Crow Island in north Colombo also disappeared. Marimuththu Subramanium, 55, from Kotahena was abducted on October 30.

The arrest of Poobalapillai Kantharajah in late September has implicated the pro-government paramilitaries in the abductions. Kantharajah was detained by the Kotahena police in Colombo as he tried to collect ransom money from the son of kidnapped businessman Sathasivam Kumarasamy. He confessed to being a member of the “Karuna group,” a LTTE breakaway outfit that now collaborates with the army against the LTTE. A spokesman for the Karuna group also admitted that Kantharajah was one of their members.

Despite these statements, the government still claimed, without providing any evidence, that Kantharajah was an LTTE member. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse dismissed growing evidence of kidnappings declaring that “certain abductions [were] carried out with the intention of tarnishing the good image of the Government and law enforcement authorities.”

The police later raided a safe house in a residential area of Thalangama, on the outskirts of Colombo, where Kantharajah had kept his victims. According to the Sunday Leader, several residents complained to local police about suspicious activities at the house. But they had been told that no one should worry as those in the house were members of Karuna group.

As last week’s protest indicated, the abductions and murders are fuelling growing anger and concern. International and Sri Lankan human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Commission, have condemned the kidnappings and killings and called for an investigation.

The cold-blooded killing of 17 aid workers connected to the French-based Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in early August provoked international outrage. The murders took place after the military recaptured the eastern town of Muttur which the LTTE had temporarily overrun. Ulf Henricsson, then head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), ruled on August 30 that the military were responsible for the murders.

The Socialist Equality Party and WSWS are conducting an international campaign to demand the arrest and prosecution of the murderers of SEP supporter Sivapragasam Mariyadas. He was killed at his home in Mullipothana near Trincomalee on the evening of August 7. Strong circumstantial evidence points to the involvement of the security forces.

The purpose of all of these abductions and murders is to intimidate the population, particularly Tamils, as the government and the military intensify the civil war. Above all, the terror campaign is directed against political opponents of the war, like Mariyadas.

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