Sri Lanka: Action demanded to end persecution of Sri Lanka’s Tamils

"Life for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka has become unbearable."

"The 500,000 or so who remain in the Jaffna peninsula, once more an undeclared war zone, face a daily battle for survival. The A9 road, the only land route north from the country’s capital, Colombo, which usually has 500 lorries a day travelling on it with basic supplies of food and fuel, has been closed by the Sri Lankan Army. One or two ships carrying emergency provisions are reported to have been sent to the north, but with 40,000 soldiers now stationed there, it is known that they will get the lion’s share.

“Prices in Jaffna are unbelievable! In Colombo one coconut – staple food for most Sri Lankans – costs 10 rupees. In the North, where coconuts grow, after all, one now costs 60 to 80 rupees. Kerosene, the basic fuel for cooking, is 4 times more expensive than in Colombo and petrol costs ten times more per litre where it is available.

“Milk powder for small children is usually sold in packets of 450 grams for 150 rupees. In the North it is being divided up into packets of 100 grams a time being sold for 250 rupees. We are hearing horrific stories about people – young and old – who have queued for 12 hours or so for something like half a bag of rice and some sugar then being robbed on their way to the family. In the same instances you will hear of the issue being resolved by these poorest of poor people sharing what scraps they have with others in exactly similar circumstances.”

Hundreds of reports of dire human suffering have been brought to a new, anti-war ‘Independent People’s Commission’ in Colombo. Its demands for the government to take immediate action to deliver emergency supplies to the people of the North have got no response. Participants, in desperation, are calling on the Indian government to drop food from the air in the worst-hit areas.

The broad platform of Tamil and left parties, trade unions and others elected Siritunga Jayasuriya of the USP as its chairperson. It demands an end to the war, a resumption of peace talks and full respect for the rights of the persecuted minority – the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The Commission sent a delegation to the president, Mahinda Rajapakse, on this issue but also to demand he take measures to stop the nightmare of daily kidnappings and killings of Tamil people in and around the capital city Colombo.

Legal and other workers have brought to light more and more horrific examples of Tamils being abducted, tortured and, in many cases, murdered. In a list of 18 cases for which they have given details, there is one particularly gruesome report of five headless bodies being found dumped on an estate 25 miles outside Colombo.

On 26 September, the ‘Civil Monitoring Committee on extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances’ issued a press release with the signatures of MPs and party leaders involved in the Commission. It condemns the totally inadequate response of the government to these and other killings in the North and East of the island, such as the slaughter of eleven Muslim Tamil-speaking people in the eastern town of Pottuvil. We carry a slightly shortened version below.

Press release

Government-appointed one-man Commission on Abductions and Involuntary Disappearances a Total Fake

We as a concerned group of political parties and social activists have been raising the issue of abductions, involuntary disappearances, extra – judicial killings and the collection of ransoms, especially in the city of Colombo and its suburbs, that has kept on increasing with no honest attention being paid by the government or by the police.

This issue was raised in parliament during the Emergency debate and brought to the notice of the government and discussed with the highest authority in charge of security, but incidents of abductions, involuntary disappearances and ransom collection went on the increase. It was in this background that we called upon the Tamil business and trading community in Colombo to protest with a closure of shops on the 18th of September. It was only then that the government thought it necessary to appoint a “One – man Commission” to inquire into such abductions and to set up a special police unit.

This appointment of a Commission is a total eye-wash and is rejected by us on the simple ground that this government has no intention in sincerely curbing abductions, involuntary disappearances and ransom collection. The highest authority in government keeps passing the responsibility of information collection to the helpless victims, when they are aware that most day-light abductions in Colombo, end up with victims being held somewhere beyond Polonnaruwa till the ransom is paid. It beats any common man’s logic as to how all these vehicles passed through all the security check-points and barricades from Colombo to Polonnaruwa, without a single vehicle being detected.

In this present situation where the government and the LTTE is more concerned in continuing with its undeclared war, every pledge on restoring Human Rights and Democratic life in society has been left aside without follow up, allowing the security forces the luxury of enjoying an immunity that allows more harsh and brutal incidents.

We regret and condemn the unwanted and illegal transfer of the judicial hearing on the mass killing of 17 Aid Workers in Muttur, from Trincomalee MC to Anuradhapura and the killing of 11 Muslim youth in Pottuvil followed by the high-handed act of the security forces in refusing the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to visit the only surviving victim in Ampara hospital. We regret and condemn the refusal of the government to have independent investigations with international participation or observation, as non-compliance on the part of the government to seriously intervene in stopping all this brutality and restoring law and order.

We therefore reject the appointment of this one-man Commission as a total fake and as an attempt to fool the people.

We call upon the people to furnish all information regarding any abduction or involuntary disappearance to the People’s Monitoring Committee which will facilitate all deliberations with confidentiality and would liaise with the “Independent People’s Commission on Abductions and Involuntary Disappearances”.

Colombo 26 September 2006

Stop Press

A dramatic development has taken place since this press statement was released. A top leader of the kidnapping gangsters was arrested as he was taking a huge ransom pay-off. He is said to have led a team of five who have abducted at least 14 people and extorted more than 100 million SL rupees. Orders came from the top to the police at Kotahena to release the man but the People’s Monitoring Committee (PMC) intervened to prevent this from happening.

A spokesman for the Defence Secretary has claimed the culprit was from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In fact, a spokesman from the break-away Karuna faction admits the suspect is from his group but claims he is innocent! It is widely known that the Karuna group works as a paramilitary force in league with the Sri Lankan state forces in its campaign of killings and intimidation against the LTTE and the Tamil population as a whole.

The Sri Lankan Daily Mirror has given extensive coverage to the role of the People’s Monitoring Committee in exposing this collusion. On October 2 it carried the accusations made at a press conference by the chairperson, Siritunga Jayasuriya, against the government for trying to protect these abductors. It cites the figures given of 33 abductions in the last two months, at least nine of which have ended in death. The paper also gives publicity to the appeal made by another member of the PMC, Tamil National Alliance MP, Nadaraja Raviraj, for international assistance. Apart from the abductions in the Colombo area, he explained, on average, more than four abductions a day are taking place in the North and East.

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October 2006