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Families demand new probe into missing 11 in Sri Lanka

Relatives petition UN, key foreign embassies in Colombo and demand president resolve decade-old mystery
Families demand new probe into missing 11 in Sri Lanka

Relatives of 11 men including five schoolchildren who were abducted a decade ago hand a petition to the UN and other embassies in Colombo on Sept. 18 as they demand to know what happened to their loved ones amid rumors the Navy was responsible for their disappearance. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)

Published: September 26, 2018 05:01 AM GMT
Updated: September 26, 2018 05:01 AM GMT

The families of six men and five male schoolchildren who were kidnapped for ransom in Colombo in 2008, and who have not been seen since, handed a petition to the United Nations on Sept. 18 calling a proper investigation into their disappearances.

They lodged the same complaint with the Canadian and U.K. high commissioners and the embassies of the U.S., the E.U., and Switzerland to pressure the Sri Lankan government into resolving the cases impartially.

They also asked President Maithripala Sirisena not to use his influence to protect those responsible, but rather press for answers over what happened to the missing eleven who vanished a decade ago — at the tail end of the nation's quarter-century civil war — in the cities of Dehiwela, Kotahena and Wattala in Western Province.

Even though the chief magistrate of Colombo ordered the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to bring Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne in for questioning, on suspicion of aiding the man thought responsible for their abductions, rights activists say justice has yet to be served.

Wijegunaratne was supposed to appear before investigators about the abductions on Aug. 29 but was unable to do so because he was sent to Mexico by the president instead.

The activists claim all 11 people went missing while they were being illegally detained by the navy for reasons unknown. Their bodies have never been found.

Sarojini Naganathan's son Rajive was among those taken.

"The former administration led by Mahinda Rajapaksa protected the security forces and now this government is doing the same," she said.

She said Sirisena threw a spanner in the works by sending Wijegunaratne, who is Chief of the Defense Staff of the Sri Lankan armed forces, to Mexico to attend an event that coincided with the CID appearance date.

Families of the missing are still grieving as they call on President Maithripala Sirisena to exert his influence to resolve the case and give them closure. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)

 

Naganathan handed a petition to Juan Fernandez, the local representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and explained how her son and his friends were still unaccounted for.

He was one of five schoolchildren including Pradeep Vishwanathan, Thilakeswaran Ramalingam, Mohamad Sajid and Mohamad Dilan who went missing on Sept. 17, 2008 in Dehiwela.

Naganathan said her son had finished high school and was about to leave the country the following day to pursue a medical degree in London, England when he vanished.

"He was at home with the sons of my cousin when Sajid and Dilan dropped by. They said they were going to get their hair cut and they drove off in a black Tata Indica [a supermini]. That's the last time I saw him," she said.

According to the petition, several of the mothers received ransom demands and paid, buttheir loved ones were never returned to them.

Another six people were abducted that year on different occasions.

Among them, Roshan and Amanon Lyon were seized on Aug. 25, 2008 at Kotahena in Colombo.

Robert Lyon from Arippu in Mannar was part of the group involved in handing over the latest petition. He said he traveled 315 kilometers across the country to lend his support and chase justice for his brother and nephew.

"My brother Roshan came to Colombo with his son Amanon to get U.K. visas so they could study there. They were staying in Kotahena when an unidentified but armed gang pulled up in a white van and carted them away," he said, citing reports by alleged witnesses.

"My sister-in-law kept searching for them for eight years before she passed away," he said.

"They have a daughter and a son who are now both orphans. They had had to deal with much suffering and still don't have any sense of closure or the knowledge of what really happened to their dad," he added.

"I can try to help them out financially but how I can heal their mental and emotional scars?"

He said the public voted the president into power to protect their rights but instead he has sided with the chief suspect in the case.

"He has protected the suspects. Now we fear he'll try to influence the judiciary, which is supposed to be independent," Lyon said.

"The culprits must be punished and an end put to this kind of odious impunity," he added.

Some military officers are now facing prosecution in connection with the assassination. They also face charges for attacking journalists and activists during the former regime.

Former president Rajapaksa has been questioned in relation to the issue, as have members of his family including his brothers. 

He was quizzed on the abduction and assault of journalist Keith Noyahr on Sept. 17 while Gotabaya Rajapaksa was questioned in regard to the disappearance of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda earlier.

Brito Fernando, president of the Association for Families of the Disappeared, urged incumbent President Sirisena to stay neutral, especially if this or other cases involve members of the armed forces.

"Navy personnel who are under suspicion don't deserve to be protected at any level," he said.

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