Amnesty fears for safety of disappeared TRO staffers

[TamilNet, Saturday, 11 March 2006, 12:28 GMT]
Amnesty International in an Urgent Action release issued Friday expressed "grave concern" for the safety of the seven Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) staffers who were abducted on 29-30 January and are still missing. Amnesty urged all concerned to write to the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence, Inspector General of Police and Sri Lanka's President Mr Mahinda Rajapakse to "undertake and complete as a matter of urgency thorough investigations into the fate and whereabouts of the seven," and to ensure safety of all TRO workers and the families of the missing.

Full text of the release follows:

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Kasinathar Ganeshalingam, Kathirkamar Thangarasa, Thanuskody Premini, Shanmuganathan Sujendram, Thambiraja Vasantharajan, Kailayapillai Ravindran and Arunesarasa Satheesharan, all employees of the Tamil relief and development charity, Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), were abducted in two separate incidents in late January 2006 on the Jaffna Peninsula in the far north of Sri Lanka. It is feared that they may have "disappeared" and there are grave concerns for their safety.

On 29 January, Kasinathar Ganeshalingam, Kathirkamar Thangarasa and three female TRO employees were driving from the town of Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka, on their way north to the TRO headquarters in the town of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka. According to two TRO workers who were later released, at about 8pm they saw a white Toyota Hi-Ace van following their vehicle. They were stopped and subjected to checks at the Sri Lanka Army checkpoint at Welikanda, on the borders of Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa districts, and saw the white van parked behind their vehicle. When they moved a short distance from the checkpoint, the white Hi-Ace van came behind them, overtook their vehicle and stopped them. An unknown number of armed men got out of the van and assaulted both Kasinathar Ganeshalingam and the driver, Kathirkamar Thangarasa, tied them up and dumped them in the back of the TRO vehicle. The TRO vehicle was then driven for about three hours and finally stopped at a camp in a jungle area at about 11.30pm. The five TRO staff members were held overnight in the camp. The women, who were reportedly held separately from their male colleagues, claim that they heard the two men being beaten by their captors. The following evening at around 9pm, two female staff members, Punniyamoorthy Nadeswari and Sithiravel Sivamathi, were released, taken to the nearest main road and put on a bus by their abductors, who warned them not to speak to anyone about what had occurred. A third female TRO staff member, S Dosini, was released later. However, Kasinathar Ganeshalingam and the driver, Kathirkamar Thangarasa, are still missing.

Five more TRO employees apparently "disappeared" on 30 January in similar circumstances in the same area. At 4pm, 15 TRO staff members were travelling from the organization's Batticaloa District office to the town of Vavuniya to attend a training session, when their way was blocked by a white van approximately 100 metres after the Sri Lanka Army checkpoint at Welikanda. According to those who were later released, the white van had previously been following them. Five armed Tamil-speaking men, aged between 20 and 25, reportedly got out of the white van and boarded the TRO vehicle. One of them dragged the driver out of his seat and then drove the vehicle to a jungle area. All 15 of the captives were then blindfolded. Thanuskody Premini, Shanmuganathan Sujendram, Thambiraja Vasantharajan, Kailayapillai Ravindran and Arunesarasa Satheesharan were removed from the TRO vehicle and the remaining 10 were taken back to the main road and released. The released TRO workers reported that when one of the abductors shouted out that there was a police jeep ahead, another of the abductors replied that this would not present a problem to them. Before the 10 TRO staff members were released, they were told by the abductors that they should prepare the funeral rites for the five remaining abductees.

The TRO has stated that it has filed police reports with the Batticaloa Police Station and some of the relatives of those missing have attempted to file police reports. Police took statements from the two young women who were released, who were kept overnight at the police station in Batticaloa. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also investigated and took statements from the two women but have not to date made their findings public. The TRO staff have continued to cooperate with the authorities and the NHRC.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION The government and the LTTE met to discuss the implementation of the cease-fire in Geneva on 22 and 23 February. The abductions of the TRO workers, which took place shortly afterwards were interpreted by some as an attempt to derail this renewed effort to put the peace process back on track. However, the talks in Geneva went ahead as planned and both parties reiterated their commitment to respect the cease-fire agreement. They agreed to meet again in Geneva from 19 to 21 April.

The TRO is seen as being closely affiliated with the LTTE. However, it is a legally registered Sri Lankan charity and its mission is to provide much needed relief, rehabilitation and development for the people of the northeast of Sri Lanka.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language:

  • expressing concern for the safety of the seven employees of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), who have been missing since their abduction in late January 2006;
  • urging the authorities to undertake and complete as a matter of urgency thorough investigations into the fate and whereabouts of the seven, and make the findings public;
  • calling on the authorities to bring those found responsible to justice;
  • urging the authorities to take immediate measures to ensure the safety of all TRO workers and others involved in humanitarian relief work, in accordance with their wishes;
  • calling for immediate steps to be taken to ensure the safety of the families of the seven missing TRO workers, in accordance with their wishes.


APPEALS TO:
President Mahinda Rajapakse
Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka
Fax: + 94 11 2333703
Salutation: Dear President


Major General Asoka K Jayawardhana
Secretary, Ministry of Defence, 15/5 Baladaksha Mawatha,
Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
Fax: + 94 11 2446300 / 2541529
Salutation: Dear Secretary of Defence

Mr Chandra Fernando
Inspector General of Police, Headquarters, New Secretariat,
Colombo 1, Sri Lanka
Fax: + 94 11 2 438 915
Salutation: Dear Inspector General

COPIES TO:
Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka
Army Commander, Army Headquarters, Flagstaff Street,
Colombo 1, Sri Lanka
Fax: + 94 11 2855018/ 2434862/ 2338653/ 2421374

and to diplomatic representatives of Sri Lanka accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 21 April 2006.


External Links:
Amnesty: Sri Lanka: Fear for Safety/ possible "disappearance"

 

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