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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan families remember missing lovers

Special Valentine's Day event gives hope to relatives of those who disappeared during civil war

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Sri Lankan families remember missing lovers

A banner marks Missing Lovers Day on Feb. 14 in Sri Lankan capital Colombo. The U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearances says relatives have waited too long to know the truth about their loved ones. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/

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Families of Sri Lanka’s disappeared held a Missing Lovers Day to coincide with Valentine's Day and remember their loved ones.

Women held photographs of their missing partners and shared their stories and challenges with a public audience on Feb. 14 near Dutch Hospital in capital Colombo.

Yogendran Vina said the event was an evening of love stories, poems, love songs and hope.

"As the world celebrates Valentine's Day, we all come together to remember our loved ones who have been missing for years," said the mother of three from Batticaloa. 

Nearly a decade after Sri Lanka's civil war ended, thousands of families are waiting to learn the fate of their missing relatives.

Several Catholic priests were killed or went missing during the 26-year war that ended in 2009 when Sri Lanka's army defeated separatist Tamil rebels. Rights groups say up to 40,000 civilians were killed and thousands disappeared.

Amnesty International recently said that 60,000 to 100,000 people were victims of a policy of enforced disappearance. 

Gana Liyanage holds a portrait of her husband, one of thousands who disappeared. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/


Gana Liyanage held a portrait and recited a poem about her love for her husband, who disappeared during the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgency of 1988-89.

"The day is a tribute to loved ones and the unfailing hope to keep the world's attention on ensuring investigations," she said.

JVP launched a youth-led insurrection amid economic hardship but the government quickly suppressed the uprising. About 60,000 were killed or disappeared.

Britto Fernando, president of the Association of Families of the Disappeared, said there should be a society which stands against disappearances and ensures that it does not happen ever again.

"We need a society that respects and protects human rights and democratic values," he said.

President Maithripala Sirisena has assured families that there are no secret torture or detention camps where missing people are being held.

The U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has said that relatives of the disappeared have waited too long to know the truth about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Samitha Naveen, who attended the event, said the government should conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of war crimes.

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