Sri Lanka: Senior police officer admits police and military involvement in abductions

Bodies of murder victims likely those of kidnapped Tamils

On Saturday 24 February, five bodies, showing the signs of an execution-style killing, were found in a swamp near Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The following week five more bullet-riddled bodies were discovered in the north-central district of Anuradhapura, the remains of which were burned beyond recognition. Although unrecognisable, the bodies are likely to be those of people that “disappeared” in the wave of abductions, disappearances and murders taking place over the past 12 months. As the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC) has reported, the number of disappearances already amounts to over 100 cases in areas of the country controlled by the government and far more in other areas.

Now, for the first time, a state official has admitted the involvement of police and security forces in the abductions. Last week Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ashoka Wijethileka, said to a media conference that former soldiers, serving soldiers and police officers have been arrested in connection with the abductions. He further commented, “The magnitude of the problem is yet to be assessed. But the fact remains that there are a few groups like this operating. Some of them including ex-soldiers, serving soldiers, police officers, underworld gangs and other organised elements have been arrested. But that does not mean we have fully and completely investigated the problem.”

The least that can be said is that this statement is a serious blow to the Sri Lankan government’s reputation!

Far from being a solution to the problem, the statement is significant because the attitude of the police towards investigating the killings and abductions has so far been one of open and outright passivity. However it is very unlikely the investigation will unmask all those responsible for the killings and violence.

Government collusion

This January brought clear proof of the direct involvement of figures in the government and close to the president in extra-judicial sectarian violence when Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva led an attack by thugs on an anti-war rally in Colombo. The attack seemed to take place with the ‘permission’ of the police who stayed away from the scene. The government made a statement saying the attackers were actually helping the organisers of the mass rally, because the latter did not want the rally to take place!

Siritunga Jayasuriya, who is secretary of the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) and also chairperson of the CMC – the body set up to investigate the murders and campaign against the war – nearly lost his life in the attack. Siriritunga and others of the CMC have made an official complaint to the government and the police, but the thugs have not been arrested and Mervyn Silva is still in government.

It is clear that the abductions and murders are not the work of isolated groups or individuals nor are they imaginable without the sectarian climate created by the Sri Lankan government.

On many occasions, Siritunga has explained the background to the killings and abductions. In a statement that was published after the sectarian assassination of Tamil MP and former Mayor of Jaffna, Nadarajah Raviraj, he wrote, “Raviraj’s death is not just one accident, but one in a spate of selected killings by armed men who could move about quite freely. This was the case even in high security Colombo and its suburbs. They enjoy this privilege since the new president ascended to power on Sinhala racist emotions.” Commenting on the attack on the anti-war rally in Colombo and the attempt at his own life Siri said “The government is very worried about us ever since the new president was inaugurated at the end of 2005. At that time, when I had been the candidate of the USP and come in third, we had warned Rajapakse that if he continued along the road of chauvinism and war, we would organise mass resistance.”

Therefore, in order to reach a lasting peace, there must be an end put to the sectarian – and oppressive policies of the government. Real investigations with the involvement of the people affected must be conducted. All those involved in disappearances and violence against Tamils or anti-war activists should be brought to justice. A campaign is needed not only against the gangsters who perpetrate these crimes but against the war-mongering and communalist government.

Campaigns have an effect

Those who oppose the racist inspired terror in Sri Lanka will welcome the recent arrests of some of the culprits. It shows that the state apparatus is internally divided. It is quite possible that the move inside the police is the result of the pressure put on the Sri Lankan Government to end the killings. This pressure has come from campaigns like those conducted by the CMC and by the CWI in solidarity with the workers and oppressed minority of Sri Lanka.

Attempts by the government and by Sri Lankan government representatives around the world to portray these campaigns as supporting individual terrorism are totally malicious and ungrounded. They are aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear, at intimidating and isolating all left forces and workers’ organisations. In particular it is aimed against socialists like those in the United Socialist Party who are continually fighting against war and for the rights of workers and oppressed minorities. By building the anti-war movement and building international solidarity the cracks in the government can be further opened up.

International protests against chauvinism and repression continue

In the mean time the international solidarity campaign continues to make progress. Support has come from Greece, amongst a very wide layer of organisations and individuals. Xekinima, the Greek section of the CWI, has in particular played an important role raising the issue amongst workers and young people. Over the past month official protest letters were sent to the Sri Lankan government in the name of several foreign communities and foreign workers’ organisations in Greece. Amongst these were, for example, the Bulgarian, Pakistani, Moldavian and Congolese communities in Athens as well as Egyptian – Palestinian Workers’ Associations, the Immigrant Women’s Network, the Greek-Sudanese Friendship Association and many more. A wide range of left political organisations is strongly represented in the list of those involved in the campaign.

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March 2007