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Tracking Tamils: dead, or dissapeared?

[Lakbima News, Monday, 31 May 2010 07:56 No Comment]

5-3 A nation so eager to forget its violent past – and to forge ahead – is haunted by the fate of the disappeared Tamil youth and thousands others held incommunicado in detention camps.

Even one year after the war victory, the exact number of the disappeared during the conflict remains a mystery and is often a contentious issue, though hapless parents cling to the faint hope that their loved ones would one day reappear from a detention camp somewhere in the island.

No one knows exactly how many hundreds, or possibly thousands of young Tamil men and women have gone missing during nearly three decades of conflict. Most contentious of all are the missing numbers during the last four years, for the government in its presumptious denial has ruled out the existence of the problem. Government’s indifference, makes matters worse on multiple fronts: its already dismal record of human rights and the much hyped process of post-war nation building has much to lose. It would also reinforce the culture of the state sanctioned impunity.

The government has not so far taken a count of the number of disappeared – reminiscent of its reluctance to take a casualty count of civilians who perished and were wounded in the final weeks of the war.

This leaves human rights activists and political campaigners to rely on sketchy details. Ramalingam Chandrasekaran, the former JVP MP, who last week spearheaded a campaign to trace missing youth said an estimated 15,000 people have gone missing in the North and Eastern provinces. He told Lakbimanews, citing information from parents and relatives in Jaffna peninsula that 5,000 youth were unaccounted for,during the last four years,in the Jaffna peninsula alone.

“Altogether in the five districts in the northern province – Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullativu, Vavuniya, 15,000 youth were missing during the period. Their whereabouts are still not known,” he said.

Though information is vague, they still suggest a disturbing picture.

Udul Premaratna, the Convener of the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) who visited Jaffna University said that 140 undergraduates are missing in the University of Jaffna and the Eastern University.

In the remote costal village of Pesalai, Mannar, where an estimated 500 families lived, 22 people have gone missing.

These figures are often contested by the government, which however has neither provided its own estimates, nor launched a probe to trace the missing.

The parents of missing youth and IUSF members plan to visit camps to trace their loved ones.

They made a breakthrough at the outset when they located two youth,whose whereabouts were not known until then.

Rasayyah Duvarka, the Peradeniya university undergrad who was detained inside the university when she was leaving from the geography class was traced to the Boossa detention centre. All throughout, her parents, who are from Jaffna were unaware about the whereabouts of their daughter.

Roy Manoj Kumar, a Canadian Tamil has also been traced to the Boossa detention camp.

Some of the detainees are being held incommunicado in detention camps. The parents and relatives are clueless about where and on what grounds their loved ones are being held. Sometimes, it may be due to inability to communicate with the next of kin of the detainees. Most relatives, themselves languished in tightly guarded ‘welfare’ camps and were released only a couple of months back. With their houses being razed to the ground and their villages mined, most of the former Wanni residents have no postal addresses.

Sleuths of the Terrorist Investigation Division told the lawyers representing the parents and relatives of the missing youth, that the absence of any means of communication was the reason for the information gap.

But, some have confided in private – though the TID informs next of kin in case of arrest, other intelligence branches of security forces, who hold youth in custody, may not follow the procedure.

In the absence of any government effort to trace the missing youth, con men fish in troubled waters. Udul Premaratna recalled a horror tale by a spouse of a missing Tamil man.

The woman from Pesalai said that a man posing as a member of the army intelligence demanded money to secure the release of her husband.

Desperate to see her husband alive, she pawned her earrings and paid him . Next day, she cooked lunch for her husband and awaited for him.

Her husband never came, nor did she ever see the man again who cheated her money.

When most youth were abducted during the last four years, their parents did not lodge complains due to the fear of reprisal by the state agencies and affiliated Tamil groups.But, now, some are willing to come forward and identify the abductors and provide information about where and when they were picked up.

Some relatives are contemplating filing habeas corpus petitions on behalf of their loved ones.

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Special needs of detainees not met

153 undergraduates of Jaffna and Eastern university are being held in the Pampamadu detention camp.43 female students were released earlier and sent to Jaffna university. However, Udul Premaratna who visited released students in Jaffna said that they have been banned from leaving the university premises. There were 12 students who were disabled in the conflict among the batch of 43 students. However, their special needs have not been taken care of, he alleged.

The students were released after nearly one year in detention camps, dubbed as rehabilitation camps. When asked what they were taught in the camps as means of rehabilitation, they said that they were taught to make handicrafts out of coconut shells.

Puvaneththian Thasmida ranked second in maths stream in 2009 from Mullaitivu, and secured a place in the faculty of engineering. She is among the students who are still being held in the Pampamadu camp.

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