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Protesters blocked on way to Colombo rally

Relatives of disappeared demand UN probe

Protesters blocked on way to Colombo rally
Relatives call for a UN investigation into their missing loved ones reporters, Colombo and Vavuniya
Sri Lanka

March 7, 2013

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Relatives of people who disappeared during and after the country’s civil war staged a scaled down protest in Colombo on Wednesday after police and soldiers prevented hundreds in the north from traveling to the capital to attend the demonstration.

More than 800 ethnic minority Tamils on buses were blocked as they tried to leave Vavuniya, 255 kilometers north of Colombo, a spokesman for the protesters said.

“They herded everyone into two churches and a hall and the bus drivers were threatened and harassed,” said Brito Fernando, convener of the Families of the Disappeared and Right to Life organization.

A military spokesman said the protesters were stopped because of concerns for their safety and to prevent possible clashes with government supporters.  

"We received reports on Tuesday that some of the buses had been stoned," Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said.

The United States embassy expressed concern over the Vavuniya incident, saying the right to freely express opinions is universal and protected under Sri Lankan and international law and called on the government to allow free movement of its citizens.

The protest was to demand a UN probe into alleged human rights abuses committed during and after the war which ended in May 2009.

Rights groups say up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the final stages of the civil war but the government denies causing civilian deaths and responsibility for hundreds of disappearances.

A pro-government demonstration demanding a UN probe into war crimes committed by the Tamil Tiger rebels was also allowed to go ahead in the capital, near the relatives’ protest.

E. Saravanabhavan, an opposition lawmaker, said the protesters handed over a petition which they intended to hand to President Mahinda Rajapaksa calling for an inquiry to the government’s Divisional Secretariat in Vavuniya since they were not allowed to join the Colombo protest.

“The government officer accepted the petition and promised to forward it to the president,” he said.

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