Sri Lankan government sends back families of missing Tamils with yet another promise

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan government ministers who met representatives the families of 32,000 missing Tamils here on February 9, sent them back with yet another promise that their grievance will be attended to after the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from Australia.

The families had met Ministers State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene, Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake, Minister of Justice Wijedasa Rajapakshe and Minister of Rehabilitation D.M.Swaminathan, at the Prime Minister’s Office. The Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara was present.

During the 30 year war, the “abduction” of Tamils for security reasons (also referred to as “forced disappearance”) was common. After the war, there was a clamor for tracing the missing men and women, and the government set up a commission to assess the problem. But till date no executive action has been taken to trace the disappeared. Therefore, a section of the affected families sat on a fast unto death in Vavuniya on January 25. It was called off only when State Minister of  Defense Ruwan Wijewardene called on them on January 27, and gave, in writing, an assurance that a solution will be found in a week’s time.

Since the promise was not kept, the families decided to meet ministers of the government but without the Tamil National Alliance or any other political party acting as an intermediary and politicizing the issue. The government saw this as a good opportunity to interact with the affected party directly, and fixed a meeting for February 9.

When TNA MPs M.A.Sumanthiran and Selvam Adaikalanathan came for the meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, the assembled families asked them to leave. After an altercation which lasted for about half an hour, the MPs left.

The Ministers tried to assuage the feelings of the families by saying that the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) will address the problem. But the affected families pointed out that the OMP has not been set up yet. And at any rate, the OMP has no teeth. It can only collect information and share it with the concerned families. It cannot prosecute and punish the abductors. It is no different from the Commission on Forced Disappearances which collected basic information and compiled a report.

If the OMP will take time to take off, why cannot the government release the Tamil political prisoners and militant suspects since the war ended eight years ago, the families asked. To this, the Ministers said that a decision on this issue can be taken only at the level of the Prime Minister and that he will be apprised of the families’ demand when he comes back from his Australian tour.

Asked what the families propose to do now, their legal advisor K.S.Ratnavel told Express that it is too early to say. The group is expected to meet next week to take stock of the situation and take a decision.

There is little hope that this issue will be addressed earnestly as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has already made a public statement saying that the missing persons’ issue is intractable because many of the “disappeared” may have left the shores of Sri Lanka.

The earlier government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had said that it was difficult to trace the missing because foreign governments which might know about their whereabouts were not forthcoming with information.

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