Missing…. Or Are They?

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By Waruni Karunarathne

Families of the Disappeared (FoD) had several meetings last week with some key members of the government claiming that they have proof to say some of those reported missing are still alive.

Activist Brito Fernando said that FoD is in fact not challenging the government but presenting the facts and is requesting the government to take appropriate measures to find those reported missing. Even though Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has maintained that there are no secret detention camps for Tamils, Fernando claimed that there are evidence of some of the disappeared in certain photos published in various leaflets and newspapers. He insisted that it is the responsibility of the government to find them and send them home to their families who had been looking for them for over many years.

Many mothers, daughters and wives of those disappeared in Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna, were in Colombo last week to meet key persons of the government to present their cases and facts they have in possession.

Fernando added that in the photos published related to the Thai Pongal festival at the Welikada Prison, among the prisoners, some families have identified six people who are supposed to have gone missing. The families showed a small paper magazine published on that event where there are some photos of those disappeared, which he said was key evidence to say that some of those disappeared are still alive and in prisons.

“Another father, who had gone missing, had appeared in a photo used in the Tamil version of the election manifesto of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the last election. In this photo, this father appears in a photo as a rehabilitating former LTTE cardre watering a plant,” he pointed out.

He also pointed at another mother, whose son had gone missing in 2009, but was seen at the celebration marking the release of the 1,800 rehabilitated LTTE carders in 2011 launched by Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – but her son was never actually released and the mother had not seen her child since. Thus he claimed that most of those who claimed to have disappeared have appeared in photos and in other places and questioned as to why the government is reluctant to let the families see them.

He added that many of families of the disappeared have supported President Sirisena during the last election as they expected him to find a solution for this issue as the former government had been rather hostile and had been threatening the families who went searching for their missing family members. However, he added that they have not received any response to the letter they previously submitted to the Presidential Secretariat regarding these matters.

Reverend Fr. M. Sakthivel, a Catholic priest said that it is evident that people did not just disappear but were forcefully disappeared and it is proven based on certain facts they have gathered. “It is being proven with these photo evidences that these people have not just disappeared but some are being detained in certain places. These families have the right to know why were they arrested, why are they being detained and why aren’t their cases taken before the court? That is their right to know,” he demanded. He added that these mothers have come to Colombo to meet the key important politicians from the government expecting some answers and justice – and at least they should be given the chance to see their children if they are being detained in prisons. “These mothers have information on who took their children and when and how they were taken. For years they have not given up their hopes,” he added.

Manuel Udayachandra – a mother of a disappeared: 

“I came from Mannar. My son was taken by an unidentified group on 11.9.2008 in a white van. They came while we were asleep. Even though I say unidentified, they were not unidentified as such. We lived in a small village in Mannar. That village was surrounded by Navy, Air-Force and Police. There is only one road to enter our village. They have to pass the sentry points to get there. That day a white van came and took him away. They said that he will be sent back after inquiries – but till today I have not seen him. CID had come to our house several times and TID asked me to come for an inquiry. Officers who came from BOOSA questioned me in Vavuniya police. Then I realized the truth. Two of his friends were also invited for inquiry. We never mentioned them anywhere… On 16.01,2015 there was a photo of my son here. This is my son (she showed a photo evidence). For 7 years I looked for him. I could not find. But this year, I finally find him in this photo… I went to various places looking for him but could not find him. He was 21 years old when he was arrested …”

8-13Ravi Kumar Mary Umaapulle – a wife of a disappeared: 

“My husband surrendered to the Army on 18.05.2009 at the Tamil Maha Vidyalaya in Omanthai. From there, CID took him away and I do not know where he was taken to. At that point in 2009, my three children and I were also in Settikulam camp in Vavuniya. I used to check newspapers and I saw that my husband was there in a photo when people were taken to be resettled in Mannar. Since I was in a camp I could not do anything. After six months only I got out of the camp. I came to contact with the ICRC and I checked if they have his name in their list.

They said they did not have his name in their list. We were resettled after six months. Since then I had been looking for my husband. Not only me, there are so many young women looking for their husbands. I am on the lookout for my husband while struggling to bring up my children. We need to know where our husbands are. We are hoping them to return to us… During the war we came to Army controlled area trusting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

At that point they said to surrender if anyone has even given at least one packet of rice to the LTTE.

Like I did, many asked their husbands and children to surrender to the army but till today we have not heard anything from them…

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