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Karuna group behind more abductions, cash demands for release

Karuna group behind more abductions, cash demands for release

2010 Dec 05

The desire of ordinary womenfolk in the war affected areas to talk about their loss and grievances was more than obvious at the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) sessions in Trincomalee. Despite the heavy rains and the fact that many villages, including Thambalagamuwa and Kappathurei, had not received information about the LLRC sessions and venues hundreds gathered to give submissions at the first session held at Trincomalee Kachcheri.

Hearing the men and women who have travelled many miles to tell their personal tales of woe is a humbling experience for the society at large since it becomes more and more obvious that the most pressing immediate issues of these people have not being solved after more than 18 months since the end of Ealam War IV.

People had gathered at the Trincomalee Kachcheri by 8 am on December, 3, 2010 but the commissioners only arrived at 1 pm, due to heavy rain. Nevertheless, the first 2 1/2 hours were spent on the submissions of a Buddhist monk and a Catholic priest which made dozens of ordinary citizens leave the Kachcheri premises feeling that they would not get the chance to talk to the commissioners.

During the long wait at the Kachcheri many people that we spoke to, wet, tired and finding it difficult to fill the forms, told us that the Assistant Government Agents (AGAs) and Grama Niladharis in many areas had not informed about the LLRC sessions. Some had heard the news from media while the others have been informed by the local NGOs.

Fear of persecution

However, despite the enthusiasm, there were many who wanted to give evidence in camera, an eerie reminder of the fear and paranoia of the people who fear future persecution.

Understanding the complex political nature of Trincomalee, where TMVP has a visible and ominous presence, like the EPDP in Kaytes Island, the LLRC had continuously encouraged those who fear to give evidence in public to appear on camera and this was repeated during the sessions, no doubt the commissioners wanted to avoid Kaytes island part II.

“I am quite worried about giving evidence in public. I am worried about the Karuna group, they had already taken over one million rupees from me promising to find me my missing son and are very powerful. I have very sensitive information about the abductors of my son. I have read in Tamil newspapers that there was intimidation and threatening at the sessions in Kaytes Island last month, so I want to give evidence before the camera,” said J Nagendran.
Despite being under the security forces control for decades, there are a large number of abductions and extortions in the area and just like in Jaffna, the overwhelming majority who appears before the LLRC are females. They talk about losing their children/bread winners, loss of livelihoods, suffering and societal and cultural restraints which add up to their burden while men, even here, talk about deep philosophical issues.

“That’s a key feature of the LLRC. Colombo sessions which deal with the philosophical/theoretical aspect is dominated by men while outstation sessions which focuses more on immediate issues are dominated by men,” said Keerthi Tennakoon of Centre for Human rights (CHR) Sri Lanka who has been a keen observer of the LLRC proceedings. While philosophical musings were limited three prominent local clergy, Buddhist and Catholic, appeared before the LLRC.

“We must all strive to find a common Sri Lankan identity, without that there is nothing to prevent a repeat of this in the future. The government must implement all its international obligations and assure good governance and democracy locally,” Rev V Yogeswaran said. It took almost two hours by Yogeswaran while hundreds of Tamil civilians were left idling in the stands. If true reconciliation depends on understanding in the grass-root level these civilians need to be given more of a chance to talk to the commissioners. But they are given minimal time to interact with the LLRC.

“Appearing before the LLRC is like going for counseling, I don’t expect much from this but it is good to have somebody to talk to. Almost all my friends and neighbours have lost their loved ones, therefore, I have no one to talk about my loss. Coming to these sessions and talking to top Colombo officials puts a load off my mind,” said Renuka Jeyaraj of Trincomalee who had lost four of her brothers.

The main issues

During the first day’s session at the Trincomalee Kachcheri, 136 submissions were presented to the commissioners out of which 67 were on abductions, 40 were on missing persons, 18 on detainees and 11 on other issues.

Halfway through the proceedings mothers/wives of those who are missing take out their photographs, faces of hundreds of youth who have been missing for years, and cameramen start snapping and the chairman of the LLRC CR de Silva orders us not to take any photos because ‘it disturbs the proceedings,’ more like ‘don’t give us bad publicity or/don’t tell the South the scale or the sensitivity of the issue.’

A large number of those who gave evidence complain that the Karuna group had abducted their family members.

They also claim that most of them they are contacted by Karuna group members who demand cash payments for the release of the abducted women.

 

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