Batticaloa workers said vulnerable to arrest, detention
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 01 August 2001, 15:50 GMT]
Ninety-three civilians in Batticaloa district arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces from January to 31 July this year are still in detention, according to Human Rights Commission officials in the eastern town Wednesday. Sixty-nine were arrested in Batticloa and twenty-four in other districts; the whereabouts of three persons arrested in Batticaloa is still not known, they said. Relatives said that the three have been presumed missing. Meanwhile Police sources in Colombo said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has arrested 20 Tamils so far in connection with the attack on the Katunayaka Sri Lanka Air Force base and international airport on 24 July.
The twenty were taken into custody in the towns of Wennappuwa, Katunayaka and Negombo.
Viswalingam Jegan,18, of Pandiruppu, 38 kilometres south of Batticaloa, who was working as a gold smith in the southern town of Galle was arrested on 29 July. Nagamani Ilankeswaran, 31, of Annamalai, 32 kilometres south of Batticaloa, also a goldsmith employed in the Kalutara was arrested on 28 July, relatives said.
Most of the Batticaloa civilians who were arrested outside the district are goldsmiths and rice mill workers. Human rights lawyers say that they are frequently subject to arrest and detention because Police tend to view them with suspicion. The Police consider them as potential contacts for the Liberation Tigers in Sinhala towns where very few Tamils from the North and east live.
The men and women from the Batticaloa who work as cheap resident labourers in large rice mills in Sinhala majority areas such as Polannaruwa, Minneriya and Hinkurangoda are particularly vulnerable because their relatives are too poor to seek legal and human rights assistance and travel to Police or army detention centres in remote Sinhala areas, according to a human rights lawyer in the east.
Hundreds of people from villages in Batticaloa impoverished by more than fifteen years of war related bans on fishing and cultivation and the destruction of minor industries continue to seek work as workers in rice mills and agricultural labourers during harvest in Sinhala areas adjoining the eastern province despite the risk of arrest and detention.