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Sri Lanka to have ombudsman for disappearances

world Updated: Apr 14, 2007 13:10 IST
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There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for the families of hundreds of Sri Lankans who had disappeared in the past year of turmoil in the country.

Not only is there a decline in new cases in the past three weeks, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to appoint an Ombudsman to receive and look into complaints of involuntary disappearances or abductions.

The Deputy Minister for Vocational and Technical Training, P Radhakrishnan, told Hindustan Times on Saturday, that the President announced this decision at a meeting with alliance partners here on Thursday.

"The President also said that he would consider setting up a parliamentary committee to go into the question of disappearances," Radhakrishnan said.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, abductions or involuntary disappearances were a major problem among the majority Sinhalas living in South Sri Lanka.

But currently, the affected are the minority Tamils, both in the war-torn North-East and in and around Colombo.

Current estimates of involuntary disappearances vary. According to Radhakrishnan, there are more than 90 unsolved cases in Colombo and its suburbs alone.

MPs of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) from the North East say that the all-Island figure is close to 900. But others put it as less.

Speaking about abductions in Colombo, Radhakrishnan said: "Only a few had been taken for ransom, and most of those taken for ransom had been released after payment. But the majority of the cases are mysterious.

The only clue is the abductors' reported claim that they are from one of the law enforcement agencies."

Some commentators believe that government agencies may have taken persons for interrogation for suspected links with the LTTE, but without showing arrest.

However, the Defence Ministry, which also administers the police, totally denies any involvement. According to the authorities, investigations reveal that those reported as being "abducted" are actually persons who have gone away to the LTTE side voluntarily.

Increased vigilance in Colombo and its environs has put the heat on underground LTTE operatives and these persons may have got away using the charge of "abduction" as a smoke screen, a source said.

According to Radhakrishnan, in the case of abductions for ransom, the victims and their families say that the detention had been in Welikanda on the border between Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa, an area dominated by the Karuna group of pro-government Tamil militants.

Issue politicised

The cause of the abducted has got complicated because of politicisation. The opposition United National Party (UNP) is trying to make electoral capital out of it. Recently, the UNP chief, Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressed a group of Tamils whose kinsmen had been abducted.

But government ministers and the media question the bonafides of the UNP and its leader because abductions were the order of the day during the UNP regime in the late 1980s. Wickremesinghe was allegedly linked to an illegal detention centre in Batalanda.

While the Civil Monitoring Commission chief, Mano Ganesan MP, has brought in the opposition parties and has appealed for international intervention, Tamil government ministers feel that it will be interest of the missing and their families to keep the issue out of partisan politics and within the confines of Sri Lanka.