30 October, 2020

Blog

2 Survive To Tell Of Sri Lankan Abduction Squads

By Krishan Francis , Associated Press –

The politician knew something was amiss when a suspicious white van pulled alongside him at a Colombo park and four men got out, pretending to exercise. Ravindra Udayashanta alerted his supporters, and police. Soon, the gunbattle began.

In this photo taken May 7, 2012, Ravindra Udayashantha, a 38-year-old town council chairman, looks through iron bars guarding the entrance to his home in Kolonnawa, suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Udayashantha dramatically pre-empted an abduction attempt when he and his entourage surrounded the men from a suspicious white van that pulled alongside him at a Colombo park and captured them. In Sri Lanka, anyone who has crossed someone of importance is wary of white vans, said to be the vehicles of choice for shadowy squads who ''disappear'' opponents of powerful people. Udayashanta said he had been on alert since his brother had been grabbed, an act he took that as a warning from his political rivals. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

In Sri Lanka, anyone who has crossed someone of importance is wary of white vans, said to be the vehicles of choice for shadowy squads who “disappear” opponents of powerful people. So, Udayashanta’s armed supporters immediately went into action.

“I heard the crack of a gun and I too pulled out my pistol and fired back,” said Udayashanta, who had been involved in a long-running dispute with another ruling party lawmaker over a business deal. Udayashanta’s brother already had disappeared — dragged away one month earlier, he says, by men in a white van.

But things went differently on this March day. Udayashanta and his entourage surrounded the men from the white van and captured them. Eventually, at gunpoint, the men acknowledged who they were: Sri Lankan government soldiers.

In this photo taken May 7, 2012, Ravindra Udayashantha, a 38-year-old town council chairman, displays an army identity card that he seized from one of the men from a white van, in Kolonnawa, suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Udayashantha dramatically pre-empted an abduction attempt when he and his entourage surrounded the men from a suspicious white van that pulled alongside him at a Colombo park and captured them. Eventually, at gunpoint, the men admitted who they were: Sri Lankan government soldiers. In Sri Lanka, anyone who has crossed someone of importance is wary of white vans, said to be the vehicles of choice for shadowy squads who ''disappear'' opponents of powerful people. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

In a country where people had hoped the 2009 end of its bloody, long-running civil war would mean a return to normalcy — a country with a history of forced disappearances that stretches back to the 1970s — the open secret of the white vans has come to exemplify the terror felt by anyone who runs afoul of Sri Lanka’s rulers

For years, little solid evidence had surfaced on the abductors.

Then came the cases of Udayashanta and that of another man in recent months— an Australia-based activist who says he was freed from abduction only under Australian pressure — who survived to tell their stories. In Udayashanta’s case, police confirmed that the men in the white van were government soldiers.

But neither case has done much to overturn Sri Lanka’s apparent culture of impunity. Police said the soldiers who got into a gunfight with Udayashanta were actually searching for deserters. Officials say the investigation is continuing, though it’s unclear what — if anything — they are doing. Government leaders and the military deny any links to abductions.

In this Saturday, May 5, 2012 photo, Shiromani Prabaharan, left, wife of abducted Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil businessman Ramasamy Prabaharan offer prayers during a special religious ceremony for his wellbeing at a Hindu temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ramasamy was abducted in February in front of his house, two days before a court was to hear his lawsuit against top police officers for detaining and torturing him over alleged links to rebels. Shiromani said a white van filled with armed men pulled up behind their car just as they returned home. In a country where people had hoped the 2009 end of its bloody, long-running civil war would mean a return to normalcy, a country with a history of official forced disappearances that stretches back to the 1970s, the open secret of the white vans has come to exemplify the terror felt by anyone who runs afoul of Sri Lanka's rulers. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena / AP

Apathy on the party of many citizens over extralegal disappearances — and even tacit approval when criminals are nabbed — is partly to blame for their prevalence, said Ruki Fernando, an activist with the Sri Lanka human rights group Rights Now Collective for Democracy.

“This is a sign of an uncivilized and undemocratic society,” Fernando said.

Rights activists, opposition lawmakers and local journalists say top officials send abduction squads in white vans to disappear political opponents, activists and outright criminals. White vans are parked in front of the homes of government critics, in clear attempts to terrify them into silence. The citizen journalism Web sitewww.groundviews.com says that 58 people have disappeared over the past nine months. In at least 22 of those cases, witnesses saw the victims forced into white vans.

It’s not clear why white vans would be used, though many suspect it is because they are so common on Sri Lanka’s streets that they can quickly disappear into traffic.

Udayashanta branded the disappearances a form of state “terrorism.” He said the failure of authorities to fully investigate his case has robbed the country of its best chance so far to shed light on the white van abductions.

A town council chairman in the Colombo suburb of Kolonnawa, Udayashanta said he had been on alert since his brother had been grabbed, an act he took that as a warning from political rivals.

Then, in March, a white van showed up again while Udayashanta watched a sports match in suburban Colombo. He pointed out the suspicious men to his supporters and police officers, prompting the men to scatter, triggering the gunfight and the eventual confession.

Udayashanta’s entourage said the men were the same ones who had abducted his brother.

The group later handed the suspects to police, who promptly released them.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana confirmed the incident, and said the military confirmed the men were soldiers. But he said Udayashanta was wrong to assume he was being abducted, that the men were merely hunting deserters.

Another man — Sri Lankan-born Australian citizen Premkumar Gunaratnam — was abducted in April but released a few days later after protests from Australian diplomats.

The former Marxist guerrilla, who was active in an armed rebellion in 1988-89 and now lives in Australia, had returned to Sri Lanka to help start a new political party when he was snatched from a rented room in Colombo.

“All this happened within a few seconds … they stormed into the room and abducted me,” Gunaratnam told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Sydney. “They tortured me, interrogated, mostly humiliated me — some sexual torture as well.”

His blindfold was removed long enough for captors to take a photograph, giving him an opportunity to see his surroundings, a well-maintained office with computers and stationery, Gunaratnam said.

His captors questioned him about the new party and whether he had links to the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels who were defeated in a civil war in 2009. Their manner suggested military backgrounds, he said.

“I knew about their language — the armed forces’ language— because I was in armed custody in 1989 as well. I knew their culture to a certain extent,” he said.

Back in Australia, Gunaratnam’s wife Champa Somaratne and at least one lawmaker, Greens party Sen. Lee Rhiannon, sounded the alarm about Gunaratnam’s disappearance. A few days later, the captors handed him to Australian officials at a Colombo police station, Gunaratnam said.

Australia’s foreign ministry would say only that it has urged Sri Lanka to “investigate fully all allegations of abductions.”

Large-scale disappearances were first reported in Sri Lanka in 1971 when Marxist rebels launched the country’s first armed rebellion. The second Marxist insurrection in 1988-1989 saw scores of young men and women abducted by government paramilitaries, with bodies later found burning by roadsides.

Abductions and killings also were linked to the Tamil separatist war launched in 1983, especially during the final years of the conflict. Victims ranged from suspected rebels, to journalists and human rights activists.

Though those conflicts have ended, the abductions have not.

Sri Lankan activists say victims in the past year include political activists, businessmen, suspected criminals, released former rebels and even a popular fortune-teller. Some bodies have been found, but the whereabouts of most remain unknown.

Ramasamy Prabaharan, a wealthy Tamil businessman, was abducted in February in front of his house, two days before a court was to hear his lawsuit against top police officers for torturing him over alleged links to rebels.

His wife, Shiromani, said a white van with armed men pulled up behind their car just as they returned home.

“Four of them got down and pulled my husband and he was holding fast to the gate. He cried out, calling for help. There was desperation and fear in his voice,” she said. “I know he was abducted because he had challenged top police officers in court.”

The Defense Ministry denied that solders were behind any abductions and said that only 18 people, not the 58 tallied by Groundviews, disappeared in the past nine months, most of them in crime-related incidents.

“Interestingly most of these figures are underworld characters involved in organized crime, drug trade, extortion, kidnapping and such anti-social activities,” the ministry said in a statement. “Fifteen of these 18 individuals are suspected to possess criminal backgrounds.”

Rohana, the police spokesman, said that resolved cases have indicated that most abductions were about private disputes over money.

Udayashantha, the local politician, now mostly stays at home, watched by two bodyguards.

“We have to free society from this fear of white vans,” Udayashanta said.

______

Associated Press reporters Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo and Rod McGuirk in Canberra contributed to this report.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    Please tell me whether there is any difference between Mahinda Rajapakse & Veluppilai Prabaharan? The only difficulty is I’m not able to say who was more brutal.

    • 0
      1

      What is this further necessity to persue deserters when the war is over? Is it not a ruse adopted by the MOD to persue selected individuals and when caught as soldiers in civil, they can trot out the excuse that they are looking for deserters. Lasantha Wickrematunge was such a generous individual that when the two motor cyclists intercepted him to stop his vehicle, he halted. If I was Lasantha Wickrematunge, he had the best of opportunity to drive over both and kill them, as anyway they would have killed him subsequently. At least the world would have known this Psychopath GOTA is at the bottom of all of this.

      • 1
        0

        gamini

        “What is this further necessity to persue deserters when the war is over?”

        Simply these men the deserters (always men) are trained killers. probably have access to weapons, with a shady past, already committed war crimes with impunity, have underworld connections and lucrative contracts, or psychologically deranged hence a need for their arrest and subsequent investigation. This need arises in a country where rule of law prevails.

        You say:

        “If I was Lasantha Wickrematunge, he had the best of opportunity to drive over both and kill them,”

        So you want to play god, or want to be judge, jury and the executioner. If individuals take the law into their own hands chaos would ensue.

        • 1
          0

          Native, it is not every Deserter who is a Killer. There might be a few but most are not. I personally know a couple of them employed and getting on in life as normal. On the other hand, are there no killers in society who are not deserters? sometimes very respectable Political figures using white vans? In such a scenario, when the laws of the Land are ineffective as we had seen and had Lasantha Wickrematunge acted as Judge and Jury that day, today we know who the killers are as they have been trailing him from morning that day. Now where is your Judge and Jury, Native of LW Killers?

    • 0
      1

      Real Peace

      Mahinda is an elected Sinhala/Buddhist Prabaharan.

    • 0
      0

      No difference—both are a bunch of terrorists.

      • 0
        0

        Randy Mathew

        does not agree:

        “No difference—both are a bunch of terrorists.”

        Yes both terrorised people. However, MR was elected by the majority (the Sinhala Buddhists) hence elected VP.

  • 0
    0

    We have heard this story thousand and one times now. Don’t you guys have any fresh news articles????

    • 0
      0

      Kumari?, what did you say moron? Do you need more and more stories of fresh disappearances to satiate your quenching voracity for blood thirst? Are we speaking to MR and GR? You stupid female, you better know this: you will see and hear this story thousand upon thousand upon times until all the criminals and murderers responsible for these crimes are brought to book and sent to gallows under a different government, MARA and GORA will be the first to test the newly refurbished gallows!

    • 0
      0

      Yes there are.
      unless we know that, you are talking / righting for somebody.

      by the way if you fut your hand down and surch, you will find some old and new stories..

    • 0
      0

      Kumari

      You have choices

      Don’t read if you have already read the story.

      You too can contribute exciting stories.

  • 0
    0

    The Rajapaksa supporters continue to drink the koolaid, and accept any excuse given by these scoundrels to cover their crimes. It is time the Sri Lankan people opened their eyes and realized what is happening in this country. Journalists, activists, and anyone who crosses the Rajapaksa’s are murdered, kidnapped or missing.
    Saffron terrorist are on the rampage, and places of worship are being attacked, corruption is rampant, and politicians who kiss up to the Rajapaksa get away with murder and mayhem.

    There is absolutely no democracy or justice in this country, children are raped and attacked, tourists are being killed, and the Rajapaksa government has FAILED to make this country safe for us, perhaps because their attention is more on robbing us blind.

    It is strange that stories like this one does not get the publicity and outrage it deserves.

  • 0
    0

    If you were trapped (or foolish?) to vote in a Govt that only succeeded in providing you with a Failed Society, you should not be complaining. The truth may be you have no other choice – because the others in the fray are not better. That is the tragedy of Sri Lanka’s history today.

    As Maitripala Sirisena, that able and efficient Minister and candidate for PM, told farmers in Polonnaruwa who complained to him for the lack of water for agriculture. The good man advised them “hold Bodhi Poojays and invoke the Devas” to provide rain. So like the people in Myanmar have been doing for the past 30-40 years where they pray to come out of their Karma. We too should engage in regular prayers although there was no mention of his in the Mahinda Chinthana.

    Senguttuvan

  • 0
    0

    The Rajapaksha rogue regime is a den of criminals and thieves and the leader of it is Mahinda Rajapaksha and the dog protecting it is Gotabaya Rajapaksha! This is the most corrupt and murderous regime in the known history in SL after independence! Sinhalese donkeys have a murderer as their king who has killed his own infant daughter dashing her on the ground and escaped the gallows by fabricating the lie that he slipped and dropped the baby while trying to secure his falling sarong and thereby preventing his asshole and cojones being exposed to his wife which the stupid morons under his rule believe! In the real world scenario you would not let your child fall even you faced the threat of your very balls being lost let alone your sarong! These two criminals must wear loin cloths in public because they do not have any civility to protect except barbarism!

  • 0
    0

    this Ajutha Rohana Alis poolish sporks man is just P bataya [holow pipe].

    do not have any backbone.if he has backbone, he should resign with out telling lies.
    he has not drunk mothers milk. only donkey milk.that is why hy he is lying to sri lankan.
    and should be born to respectable mother and father and respectable family.
    only bastard are doing bastards jobs.
    he could not catch me for 10 years, and now liking axx of my bosses

  • 0
    0

    I can see a Bashar Al Assad and Maher Assad in Lanka supported by the US of A ! (and I’m no JVP’er)
    I can see a enlarged Ben Ali family structure too.
    I can see a Mubarak type army business economy emerge
    I can see the sons and their “invicible” money men.
    I can see the the 2/3rd majority is all important lest another amendment changes Prez for life status.
    I can see therefore I must let my men do what they want as long as they let me rule.
    And beleive you me,all this is with covert American support as they need a puppet to counter China.
    Puppet will be allowed to do whatever.

  • 0
    0

    If blogger Total will allow me, methinks there’s little love lost between MR and Uncle Sam’s lot. It may well be Sam’s lot fear the
    idiotic Rajapakses may be trapped by the Chinese – endangering both
    India and the vital shipping lanes. Remember everytime Bob Blake comes
    attack canine Wimal W is let loose wisdom from his acerbic tongue and manimal behaviour.

    Senguttuvan

    • 0
      0

      Total and Senguttuvan, the Chinese are not adversaries of the Americans. If only you know that the Chinese have invested Billions of Dollars of their money in the American Market which most think will collapse as the debts ride over trillions. The Americans have invested their money the world over in getting their choice of Corrupt to lead all the countries. So naturally they safeguard the corrupt as MR whatever accusations are there of War Crimes or not.

  • 0
    0

    How about this for KARMA. 2 French tourists took pictures in front of a famous buddha statue in the holiest of the buddhist country of SRILANKA, then they decided to take a picture kissing the statue of the buddha. They caught by the police and thrown in the cells. To their KARMA they went to photo developers and the eagle eyed shop assistant reported to the police what he saw on those photographs. You can take this as hilarious but for the intolerant buddhist society this is all too much to take. I wonder whether the photo shop worker had been offered a ministerial post? Ones mind boggles.

  • 0
    0

    Most countries use extralegal methods for fighting terrorism. We have a large camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, where we incarcerate the most dangerous terrorists and treat them in a military justice system completely separate from the civil and criminal courts set up under constitutional parameters.

    The terrorists cry foul when governments dont respect the niceties of international law, which they themselves can never be concerned with.
    Also, in combating organized crime law enforcement often bends the rules a bit, this is not unusual at all.

    On the other hand, these extreme tactics are totally inappropriate in business or political disputes. This article does not give much detail about the nature of the dispute or why his brother was allegedly whitevanned. He also admits he was carrying a concealed pistol suggesting he is no innocent, law abiding, citizen.

    Many will rush to judgment to blame the GOSL, as is their habit, but it is not clear what went down here. It is clear that the white van team was very incompetent and has embarrassed the government.

  • 0
    0

    ALLover,

    A few lankans have this trait that you have too:If he looked like he deserved death,so be it.

    In your USA have you not heard of the right to life,fundamental human rights? Or do you miss lanka so much you wish to say aye to anything wrong?

  • 0
    0

    First, I am not a Lankan, just a knowledgable and objective observer.

    You cannot seriously compare the US situation to Sri Lanka.

    There is visual profiling even here, despite official denials as it is unPC. If an individual looks yo be a middle easterner, you can bet they are going to get more scrutiny from the authorities. The gentleman in question here admitted to carrying a pistol, it was nothing about his appearanc ethat caused my comment.

    Appearances CAN be deceiving; VP did not look the part of meglomaniacal killer at his 2002 press conference with Bala. He almost appeared thoughtful and deliberative at times, and too cherubic a face to be such a vicious killer.

    • 0
      0

      More American than Lanka Lover, you are anything but knowledgeble and neither an objective observer as you are only a panderer to the Corrupt MR regime. It looks as if you are a hired agent, used by the CIA to defuse and distort the truth in as places as this.

    • 0
      0

      American Lanka Lover

      is naive to believe:

      “VP did not look the part of meglomaniacal killer at his 2002 press conference with Bala”

      You also say:

      “I am not a Lankan, just a knowledgable and objective observer.”

      I cannot reconcile the contradiction that you have just displayed.

      Are you knowledgeable or naive? You cannot be both at the same time.

      VP never shed his stripes.

      • 0
        0

        Vedda; watch the video closely. Of course this is a subjective opinion but I was surprised by the softness of his facial expressions and his lack of bellicosity. Of course appearances can be deceiving, but based on his appearance, mode of speech etc, I found him less menacing than I had expected.

        Gamini you must think before making these absurd accusation: if I worked for the CIA would I be writing on anti government websites? And while GOSL does need more informed and objective voices like mine to speak out, I do it to help provide the “other side of the story” as Paul Harvey called it on 60 minutes, not because I am being paid by the GOSL.

        I do understand the animosity of LTTE apologists like you and Donald because you are losing the arguments so consistently.

        • 0
          0

          American Lanka Lover

          “I was surprised by the softness of his facial expressions and his lack of bellicosity.”

          VP never had the need to face the press except on one or two occasions.

          When he was in the limelight he was disoriented and had completely gone bonkers.

        • 0
          0

          More Ameican than Lanka Lover, First and foremost you have accused CT of being anti-MR govt. when CT is only being impartial. For your ilk being Democratic to be critical is viewed as anti. An inherent problem of the myopic of your kind as you have no balance of opinion. Although you claim that if you are a CIA agent whether you will write comments in this blog that you perceive as anti- MR govt. Sleeping with the enemy is also strategy? Your level of intelligence trying to be naive, the readers here can assess easily. It is your type that try to teach Grand Mothers to suck eggs.

        • 0
          0

          More American than Lanka Lover, one more thing, when we express views which are more Democratic than yours without being biased unlike you, you accuse us of being Apologists for the LTTE and traitors to the cause like the rest. I certainly do not condone LTTE atrocities, but that does not mean that we should be blind to the Atrocities committed by these Pseudo Patriots either. Your level of intellect truely amazes me.

  • 0
    0

    Rajapakse your President has sold your country the day when LTTE was destroyed. He is selling part by part to the chinese and the people of SL will never learn until its your house and you that is being sold. When Prabhakaran a monster was killed, little did you know that you created another frankenstein. SL is everyday moving dangerously to a different alignment with China and Pakistan. Nothing can help you, since its your own creation.

    • 0
      0

      I absolutely agree that the coziness with Pakistan and especially China is troubling, but then again the US and India have forced GOSL into that position by continuing to subvert the war against terror because of domestic political considerations (particularly Delhi kowtowing to Chennai) . If DC and Delhi would start helping the government fighting terrorism instead of emboldening the terrorists, GOSL would not need to kiss up to the terrorist regimes in Beijing and Islamabad.

  • 0
    0

    If footage of POW killings and others in 2009 was quickly investigated and those guilty punished,others resigned and a elected Tamil adminstration in place long time ago in North,there would be no need to look for terrorists under the bed or more correctly use the patriotic button.
    The moral high ground is lost.

    An illegal amendment (not an urgent bill) to constitution to sustain self,corruption,extra judicial kidnap/kill,state assets becoming family business,ever growing military apparatus to sustain self,incompetence in all spheres don’t help your case either American L Lover :(

  • 0
    0

    ABDUCTIONS WERE ALL FOR EXTORTION- 50 MILLION PER HEAD.
    THERE ARE MANY WHO PAID UP,WHEN THREATENED.ALL THIS WAS DONE BY
    DEFENCE MINISTRY PERSONNEL.HOW COULD HAVE “UNREGISTERED” WHITE VANS HAVE GONE PAST CHECK POINTS? THIS WAS THE MONEY WHICH WENT OUT OF THE COUNTRY,WHEN THE CABRAL, PERMITTED THE SENDING OUT OF MONEY.
    LATER IT CAME BACK AFTER “LAUNDERING”
    POLICE SPOKESMAN AJIT ROHANA IS A “BARE-FACED” LIAR
    YOU CAN SEE IT IN HIS “SWEET” FACE

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.