Get out of Colombo

by Carla Lee, Colombo, 09 May 2009

“I have no guarantee for my life. They will finish me off if I do not listen to their words.”

The University graduate Tamil man Lackshman (name changed, late 20s) was sobbing out. Having torture marks over his body, he was lucky to be spared his life by his abductors unlikely many others who never returned home. But he was warned to get out of Colombo “within days”.

Photo by Carla Lee

Photo by Carla Lee

Lackshman has left Jaffna, the northern peninsula, in 2005 out of fear as many of his friends were shot dead by unknown persons in Jaffna. He’s been working since then for a shop in Colombo, which is affiliated with one of the Tamil political parties that runs paramilitary forces. In April 2008, he was arrested by police while he was waiting outside the shop to be open. The opening of the shop was unusually delayed on that day.

“The police who had come to arrest the boys in adjoining shop arrested me too” he said. He’s been detained without charge for two months and released to court order. During the detention he was severely assaulted by the police, who have warned him, releasing him,

“You can’t escape us. We know where you are working. We will be watching you”.

He had to move his place for safety.

Ordeal was going to be renewed soon as he received a letter from unknown group, at his postal address.

“Why did you come to Colombo? Get out of your place. Or you will be punished” the letter read.

The group claimed to be “in charge of evicting traitors”. A ‘lion face in Tiger’ – ‘lion’ is symbol of the majority Sinhala and ‘tiger’ is symbol of minority Tamil– for logos and ‘NO.00’, which indicated they’ve got dozens of ‘traitors’ at least, are written in the letter. It showed 5 names of their list, who are from Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna. But Lackshman didn’t take it seriously until he received second letter from the same group in the end of 2008. This time, deadline was set on specific day.

“One day (February 2009), I came out of my place for dinner around 9 pm. Some Special Task Forces (or STF) personnel called me so I approached them. They pushed me into the vehicle and put a mask on my face.”

His screaming was not heard by anyone. He was transferred twice during the journey for more than ten hours. On second transfer, he was handed over to a group, who spoke perfect Tamil, suggesting they were Tamils -Sri Lanka is not a ‘bilingual’ country, but ‘two mono languages’ spoken country, although some speak the both-. He was severely tortured by electrical equipment, leaving his body burned all over.

“I was appealing to them for one more chance to live. They said it’s up to the higher officials. But finally they told me they are going to give me a chance.”

The abductors took Lackshman into a van and drove to dump him out at outskirt of Colombo. It was dark morning. Survived, but he should get out of Colombo within days, or “will be punished”.

Photo by Carla Lee

Photo by Carla Lee

During the ‘journey of abduction’, he said, none of the numerous checkpoints stopped his abductors’ vehicle. The ‘Abduction Squad’, which is apparently comprised of security forces, police and Tamil paramilitary groups, might be the only ones who can enjoy freedom of movement in Colombo or elsewhere. It is a ‘biggest operation’ in a street by “would be-Criminal Investigation Devision (or CID) officers” at times, in a “White Van” at all times.

‘Freedom of movement’ only for ‘White Van’

“That is what we call systematical abduction to eliminate Tamils. As you see, check points are everywhere. But I never heard any White Van was stopped or abductors were arrested. Can’t you understand that the abductions are carried out with connivance of the authority?”

Mano Ganesan, Independent Tamil MP (Photo by Carla Lee)

Mano Ganesan, Independent Tamil MP (Photo by Carla Lee)

The independent Tamil MP, Mano Ganesan appeared ‘never feared’ despite of non-stop threats by various groups. His friend, Nadaraja Raviraj, the MP hailed from Jaffna, was assassinated two month after the pair had launched the Civil Monitoring Commission of Abduction in late 2006.

“There is general understanding as to who abductors are. That’s why people are too scared to talk. That’s why none of the cases has been solved. It is very visible. But if you give others message, then you’re under threat, which is also very visible”

Lal Wikrematunga, the chairman of the respected weekly paper said.

According to the Human Rights Watch, more than 1,500 people were reportedly missing between 2005 and 2007 and more than 1,000 in 2006 alone. In its annual report of 2008, HRW highlighted 43 reported cases in Vavuniya (the ‘entry’ town to the North) in August alone, adding “many cases are not reported due to fear of reprisal”. The estimation by Civil Monitoring commission of Abduction, the local rights body, seems to be far higher. It says over 400 people have gone missing in Colombo and its suburb only since the Rajapaksa government came to power in November 2005 till recent days, whereas over 4,000 have gone missing mainly in North and East during the same period. It is Tamils who have been a major target of this ‘abduction operation’ along with far less number of Muslims and Sinhalese.

“During the peace process, the LTTE has been allowed to open their political office in government-held area based on the Cease Fire Agreement. This aimed to transform the guerrilla rebel group into a democratic political party. Those offices had conducted various ‘political events’ in North and East, which has been supported by the then government of Sri Lanka as well as international community. The events were filmed or recorded to leave footages. We found that people who participated in any of those programs have been disappeared in many cases.” Mano Ganeshan analyzed.

Sure enough, Lackshman the life-saved Tamil, has revealed that he has ‘forcibly’ participated in the LTTE’s program in late 2002. For that, he has travelled with 50 persons to cross the Muhamalai check point to go to Vanni, the then LTTE controlled heart land in the North. At checkpoint, Sri Lankan Army stopped them to take photographs and video films but eventually allowed them to proceed to Vanni.

As violence has been spread over since 2005, however, the LTTE political offices had to be closed down, while civilians who did participate in any of its programs vastly remained in government held area. Some of them have moved to Colombo to avoid violence, hoping to get a job – often job abroad – and safety. Yet Colombo is not a ‘safety zone’ either for Tamil population. While intimidation at large is said to be common to all population, it is being conducted in more humiliating form on Tamils.

Making pretext of LTTE infiltration, the government has put a measure in force that all Tamils in Colombo, whoever has lived for decades or visits for short days, must register at police station with details including bank accounts. In a registration paper, which people have to hold for being questioned at a check point or during the cordon and search operation by security forces, “purpose of stay” “intended period of stay” and other information are written. It is believed that Abduction Squad could obtain (if not share) this information to know that where their targets are originally from, as Lackshman’s letter indicated. It is also believed that the Squad has used this information to abduct Tamils business men for ransom purpose occasionally. In the end, most of Tamils are vulnerable to various troublesome, one or another.

Tamil woman, whose husband has gone missing nearby his home after alledgdly being taken by 'CID offices' (Photo by Carla Lee)

Tamil woman, whose husband has gone missing nearby his home after alledgdly being taken by ‘CID offices’ (Photo by Carla Lee)

“I’m very scared when security forces came into my house for search. I cannot understand well Sinhalese. I have only three daughters with me, as my husband, who’s a bus driver, has gone missing since January 10th 2007. He was taken by CID officers nearby my house according to my neighbours who witnessed it.”

A Tamil woman is weeping in a dark room in outskirt of Colombo, breast-feeding her 2 year old girl, who was born after her father went missing.

From the fighting zone via the government declared-‘safety zone’ to the barbed wired-IDPs camp in a current war, or from isolated-Jaffna peninsula via paramilitary-rampaged Eastern Province to Colombo over years, nowhere has seem to be humanly accommodating the grieving minority of the Island. As the case of 25 years-old Tamil man Sampanthan (name changed) shows, a number of people have been just disappeared without any clue in their ‘terminal’ whether it is Colombo or reportedly IDPs camp as well.

Sampanthan was arrested by police in Petta (Colombo 2 quarter) in early 2008. He was in Colombo to prepare to go to Malaysia for work. But he didn’t hold his passport with him at questioning moment by police, who suspected him, arrested to detain him for three months without any charge. He was released to the court order because, during his detention, his family has submitted all documents including his passport. But police didn’t get him back his passport when he was released.

“My brother went to police station twice to ask his passport back but failed. So he has applied new one and walking in Kathiresan road in Petta around 6 pm on May 10th 2008. Few minutes after I spoke to him on the phone, he supposed to be taken by three persons in civil clothes, who came there in White Van and introduce themselves as CID officers. This is what the witnesses told me later”.

Eehai (23, name changed) strongly believes his brother Sampanthan has been CID custody because would be-CID men took all the documents of his brother from a house next day of abduction. When asked if he ever tried to approach CID office, Eehai exclaimed,

“You know, I’m a Tamil youth. How can I?”

‘Military package only’ for political problem

Today, as the government has ruthlessly pushed the war in Vanni to defeat the Tamil Tigers, who has been appealing a cease fire in repeat, Tamils who live in Colombo and elsewhere of the Country are having uneasiness that they would be even more marginalized than ever before.

“What a defeat of the LTTE in this circumstance means that political solution, which is fundamentally needed to solve this conflict anyway, would be further alienated” One Tamil activist in Colombo observed.

“The LTTE is about 30 years old. The roots of the conflict in the Island have been there for about 60 years. We need to address roots and causes. Nevertheless there’s a military package only for political problems”

Another activist, who is a Sinhalese, in Colombo pointed out.

Yet these views are not shared by many in Colombo. As the defeat of the LTTE as well as the ‘mass starvation to death’ in Vanni seems to be imminent, abductions which is a biggest operation in a street are expected to be continued, but expected to be heard by no one.

One response to “Get out of Colombo

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