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Political Agendas Dampen Search For Missing Persons

2014 Jan 16

Reports of incidents of missing persons during and after the war are on the rise, while there is also a debate about the validity of many cases reported. Several incidents in the recent past that were reported as incidents of missing persons were later rediscovered to be false claims that supported political and personal agendas of some people, undermining the gravity of the real incidents. Undoubtedly, disappearances have taken place in all parts of the country during the conflict with a large number of cases of missing civilians, soldiers as well as LTTE carders where the higher percentage is reported in North and East.

Secretary to the Presidential Commission Investigating Cases of Missing Persons H. W. Gunadasa told The Sunday Leader that the complaints received by the Commission exceed 12,000.

“This number consists of complaints received from all around the country and we are currently breaking down the numbers to get the district-wise figures. Most of the complaints received to the commission are lodged by civilians and there are some complaints lodged by the forces on behalf of the civilians who reported the incidents to them,” he said.

The first phase of the field investigation would be launched in Karachchi Division in Kilinochchi on January 17 where they would collect data of the missing persons from the people in Karachchi Division, said the secretary. According to him, the Commission had already informed the people in the area about this session that would last for five days until January 21 and people are encouraged to lodge their complaints and submit further information related to the incidents to the commission.

Commenting on the cases of disappearances, Military Spokesperson Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya told The Sunday Leader, “Disappearances of people during the time of the war is not something unique to North and East.

Many soldiers also disappeared during the conflict. The number of known cases of missing military persons is close to 3,500.”
He also added that some who claimed to be missing live in other countries or fall under the illegal migrants and therefore, the accurate number of the real cases of missing persons cannot be established.

He also highlighted how some people fake such incidents to be benefited on personal and political grounds, giving example of an incident that was reported on December 26.

According to him, a person called Suriya Kumar Thamul Amudan, who was reported missing on December 26, was found on the 28th at a friend’s place and the investigations into the incident revealed that he was in hiding to support the asylum claims of his sister who was planning to seek asylum in Canada.

According to K. S. Ratnavale, a lawyer who represents cases of missing persons and deaths, the exact number of the incidents are not known.

“We mostly focus on the missing cases related to the surrendees during the last phase of the war. There is a considerable number of surrendees who disappeared while only 15 to 20 people initially came forward to file the cases,” he said and added that an increasing number of people report cases of missing persons and family members to their organization and most of those cases had already been reported to the police and the Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Ratnavale said, “The government is carrying out different propaganda to conceal the seriousness of the issue by claiming that most of the missing people live abroad.

Asylum seekers are a different category and if people know that their friends and family members live in other countries they would not claim them to be missing and lodge complaints regarding that.”

Meanwhile Rajani Chandrasegaran, a women’s right activist in Jaffna observed that when investigating some cases of missing girls reported to them, they had discovered that the girls had eloped with boyfriends.

However, she highlighted that it is not always the case and there are many serious incidents that need to be investigated.
While the Census and Statistics Department is still processing the data related to the census carried out in North and East on missing persons, many seem to lack confidence on the way the data is being gathered.

D. Cayathri, a Jaffna based women’s right activist told The Sunday Leader, “The census is designed to capture the existing people but it does not properly evaluate the number of missing people.”

She added that people in the Diaspora, Muslim families who are being relocated or the families who were wiped out due to the war are missed out in the census and therefore it would not provide a proper image of the real situation.

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