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Holding on to hope for Sri Lanka’s missing – theage

[MISC, Tuesday, 27 October 2009 13:21 No Comment]

Samsun Nihara shows photographs of her missing son and husband. Photo: Matt Wade SAMSUN Nihara’s pain shows in her dark eyes. Her husband and son disappeared more than a year ago.

Her nightmare began last September, when her 24-year-old son, John Reid, vanished. He and his fiancee were returning from a trip to a beach north of Colombo, when the van he was driving was blocked by four armed men on two motorcycles.

They hijacked the van, dropped the woman at a busy Colombo intersection and sped away. Mr Reid has not been seen since.

The family’s crisis deepened a month later, when Ms Nihara’s husband, K. A. Anthony, became the target. Four men burst into the tiny two-room home in central Colombo at 4am and took him away.

”I saw them all,” says Ms Nihara. ”They said they were from the military – one was in uniform.”

Reports of abductions in this way are so common that Sri Lankans call the phenomenon ”white van syndrome”.

Last year, the Committee to Monitor Investigations into Abductions and Disappearances (CMIAD) was established to help relatives of missing people. It was notified of 283 disappearances in 2008 and 113 so far this year, although the number may be much higher.

Most of those missing are believed to be in custody on suspicion of having links with the Tamil Tigers.

”Unexplained disappearances have become a systemic problem in Sri Lanka,” a human rights activist told The Age.

”It’s very difficult to deal with because it’s so institutionalised.”

A Government spokesman admitted some disappearance cases remained ”unresolved” but claimed many alleged abductions have turned out to be false when investigated.

Tamil MP P. Radhakrishnan, who is a founding member of CMIAD, said the Government was ”doing its part to trace people” but many of those found were in official custody. One of them was Rushantha Selvarathnam. He is 25 and has twice been detained by police for long periods on suspicion of having links with the Tamil Tigers. ”If they do it again, I might never be released,” he says. He feels he has no choice but to leave Sri Lanka and has applied for asylum in Switzerland.

Samsun Nihara has not lost hope of finding her husband and son. She has visited police stations across Colombo, lodged complaints with many official bodies and even written to the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. But no one has been able to help.

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