Several said missing after massacre
[TamilNet, Thursday, 26 October 2000, 00:36 GMT]
(News Feature) Four more Tamil detainees who were seriously wounded in Wednesday's massacre at the Bindunuwewa detention centre have succumbed to their injuries bringing the death toll to twenty-nine, Joseph Pararajasingham, an MP for the Batticaloa district said. Twenty Tamil detainees amongst those held at the detention centre remained unaccounted for Wednesday night, sources said.
Hundreds of Sinhala villagers who stormed the compound had been armed with knives, clubs, axe and sticks, the sources said. The mobs later set fire to the centre, which houses mainly young Tamils arrested on suspicion under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and held for rehabilitation, police sources said. More than 85 detainees - all of them Tamils - were there in the rehabilitation camp at the time of attack.
The Rehabilitation Center is maintained by Ministry of Defence and a retired Army Officer operating from Colombo is in charge of the center, the sources said.
According to the sources, the detainees who had been held for several months had been agitating for their release prior to the attack. On Tuesday they had told the authorities that they would go on a hunger strike if their release was further delayed, the sources said.
Local residents said tension prevailed in the area on Tuesday evening as anti-Tamil posters appeared in the Bandarawela town. They said the attack on the camp was premeditated and alleged several senior security personnel were behind it. The mob was allowed to enter the compound by the guards, without opposition, they said.
In the meantime, Sri Lankan human rights organisations and lawyers have appealed to the authorities to provide special security measures to all detention centers throughout the country to prevent similar incidents.
Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, MP for Batticaloa District said the majority of the detainees at Bindunuwewa centre were youths below 19 years of age, detained on suspicion under the PTA. In a fax sent to the Sri Lanka President, Chandrika Kumaratunge, the MP appealed for an investigation into the attack and urged her to bring the culprits to justice.
The President in a statement Wednesday blamed "external forces" for inciting the attack and said that there had been no disagreements between the detainees and their guards.
State radio however reported that detainees had tried to take control of the facility on Tuesday and that reinforcements from the security forces had been called in to quell the disturbance. Reports said the troops had withdrawn later that night, and the mob had attacked hours a few hours afterwards.
Mr.Pararajasingham said similar prison attacks continue in the island because the Government has failed to take any legal action against those involved in similar prison massacres earlier.
Wednesday's massacre at Bandarawela is the latest in several attacks on Tamil detainees and prisoners in Sri Lankan prisons beginning with the massacre of 53 Tamils at Welikade jail amidst the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom.
Sri Lankan human rights groups and lawyers have often urged the government to charge and bring to trial those detained under the PTA or to release them immediately. Large numbers of Tamil men and women have been held for long period without formal charges being brought against them, they say.