22 May, 2024


Abduction Fear Still Alive In Post-War Sri Lanka

By Amal Jayasinghe -AFP

Amal Jayasinghe

The choice of vehicle was almost inevitable. While describing his terrifying abduction ordeal in Sri Lanka, political activistPremakumar Gunaratnam said his captors came in a white van.

The Sri Lankan-born Australian citizen says he was grabbed by six to eight gunmen outside his house in Colombo in April, stripped and then “sexually tortured” during his detention that lasted four days.

His colleague and fellow hard-left Marxist dissident Dimuthu Attygalle suffered a similar fate. He was also freed after four days in captivity, shortly after Gunaratnam was kicked out of the country.

Unlike others to have disappeared since the end of the country’s Tamil separatist war in May 2009, they both lived to tell their tales after diplomatic pressure from Australia.

Being “white-vanned” — it has become a verb synonymous with being abducted in Sri Lanka — was a widely reported tactic employed by the security forces to deal with troublesome opponents during the island’s ethnic war.

But rights activists such as the Asian Human Rights Council say more than 50 people have been kidnapped in the past six months alone, highlighting what they say are continuing abuses on the Indian Ocean island that is re-emerging as a popular holiday destination.

“I believed they were going to kill me after they took me away at gun point,” Gunaratnam, 47, told reporters via Skype from Australia after he was deported. “They blind-folded me, tied my wrists and legs and sexually tortured me.”

“I am lucky to be alive and one of the very few to have survived an abduction by security forces. But, this is not a question about me, but about democracy and human rights in Sri Lanka,” he added.

Attygalle, 43, a Sri Lankan national, said she was taken to the same place where Gunaratnam was being tortured.

“They said I should enjoy a comfortable life abroad without doing politics in Sri Lanka,” Attygalle said. “I thought they would kill me, but I told them I expected something like this and that I am not afraid to die.”

She was blindfolded and then later dumped in a Colombo suburb.

“Even after the official announcement of the end of that (Tamil separatist) conflict, there has been no end to abductions,” the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said.

“A tacit policy that the use of abductions may be extended, not only to counter insurgency but also to the suppression of any opposition to the government, has been followed by all recent governments.”

The AHRC said the only way Colombo could answer allegations of its involvement in the “white van abductions” was by demonstrating “credible action” to stop kidnappings.

The abductions of Gunaratnam and Attygalle came two weeks after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva urged Sri Lanka to probe alleged war crimes committed in the final stages of its war.

“Though the UNHRC called the regime to order… abductors in white vans have thumbed their noses at the world and continue to ply their trade with impunity,” said Kumar David of the South Asia Analysis Group think-tank.

The government denies any involvement in the abductions and says police cannot be expected to prevent criminals using the tactic to settle scores.

Rights groups concede that at least some of the documented abductions are likely to be by criminals taking advantage of the climate of fear and the inability of police to find the perpetrators.

“You must understand that we are a country emerging from nearly four decades of war,” spokesman and acting media minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told AFP.

“There may be several groups still carrying arms… Police can’t be expected to be behind everyone to stop this.”

In the cases of Gunaratnam and Attygalle, they were both luckier than Tamil newspaper editor N. Vidyatharan, 52, who was grabbed by gunmen as he attended a friend’s funeral in Colombo suburb in February 2009, three months before the war ended.

Vidyatharan was bundled into a white van, stripped and assaulted. He was then handed over to the same police unit where Gunaratnam was dumped by his captors and held for two months without charge.

“Several big countries put a lot of pressure on the government when they heard I was abducted,” Vidyatharan told AFP. “I did not think they would free me. My prayer was for a quick death when they started assaulting me.”

He has since given up his newspaper work and maintains a low profile.

Journalist Poddala Jayantha, 47, was mugged and taken away in a white van in June 2009, stripped and assaulted and then dumped on a roadside with a warning to stay away from media activism.

He said he had been a key figure organising the funeral of anti-establishment editor Lasantha Wickrematunga who was killed by unidentified gunmen in January 2009.

Police have so far made no arrests in connection with any of the high profile abductions and the Sunday Leader editor Wickrematunga’s murder remains unsolved.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Everybody thought after defeating LTTE Sri Lanka will be back to normal and we can lead our life under peace conditions

    LTTE left a huge gap in politics, ecomnomy and in our society

    SL newspapers did not have any topics to write, SL politicians had no topics to talk, then their politics was always reactionary and not contructive.

    Top businessmen in Sinhalese and Tamil community made good profit out of war

    All our discussion in society were based on blaming somebody, minorities, LTTE, opposition. Wimal Weerawamsa knows what to talk in which moment to deviate people.

    So we had to find new enemies:

    Sarath Fonseka appeared in political scenario
    Channel4 published the war crime videos

    Tell me a project, a real project, which was successfully done for SL by GoSL without Non Sri Lankan money or without debts?

    Show me a project which was sucessfully completed by this big mouth Wimal Weerawamsa?

    There is no armed grouph who is going to kill any of the GoSL members or their party members, if some then their own members like Duminda and Bharatha.

    So why do you abduct people?
    Are you scared of our mouth?

  • 0

    abnomality political action is the cause and effect for abduction.the best , stay away out of bad like suz.

  • 0

    This is not new thing. They say if you cant beat them , Join them. If you cant join them , bribe them. If you cant bribe them ,Blackmail them and if you cant blackmail them white van them.

  • 0

    …Certainly… every secret service in every country around the planet is permitted to do some White-Vanning of enemies of the state or some undesirable politician…. the CIA & NSA do it all the time but never get caught….. because they eliminate the casualty and ensure that the incident is well covered up….. neither the media, people nor foreign govt. will know anything……too bad our guys constantly get caught…however, when it happens to accredited, fair journalists who work for the people, of the people, by the people… then its certainly not fair and democracy does suffer….. the people will not secure & safe if it can happen to any ordinary citizen, voter or taxpayer walking down the street …..

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