Truce monitors protest military conduct
[TamilNet, Saturday, 01 June 2002, 10:38 GMT]
(News Feature) Tensions between the Sri Lankan armed forces and local residents increased this weekend in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts following new incidents of violence and harassment by the military, reports said Saturday. The vicious assaults of four fishermen by police commandos prompted the head of the local ceasefire monitors' head to plead with the security forces "to desist from violating the ceasefire and arresting and torturing innocent youths under various pretexts," press reports said.
In response to the SLMM's intervention, the Tamil Tigers' representative in its regional office was threatened with death by suspected members of the security forces.
On Wednesday night, four youth who were going to catch sea crabs on the Karaithivu beach were accosted in the village by a group of Special Task Force (STF) commandos who had demanded to check the national identity cards of the boys and had then brutally assaulted them. The youth were Sivapathasundaram Ravishankar18, Paramalingam Raguthevan 20, Ratnasingam Govindaraj 21 and Sivarajah Yogaraj 21.
The troopers took the youths to a hospital to obtain medical certificates stating the youth had no injuries, and then held them at the STF camp where they were tortured, the Thinakural reported. Later, on Thursday morning, the STF handed the youths over to the Samanthurai police. They had suffered cut lips and internal injuries from being kicked and punched.
The youths were then charged with attempting to rob the local bank. The Police also claimed that they were involved in organising the general shut down and protest in the Amparai district eight days ago.
Meanwhile, as news of the arrest and assault spread in the village, incensed crowds called a general shut down and attempted to block the main road with burning tires.
But on hearing from the father of one of the youths that the STF had handed over the youths to the Samanthurai police, the Finnish head of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) for Ampara district, Commander Erkki Platan, and the LTTE's representative on his team, Mr. Rasiah Shanmuganathan, visited the police station and spoke to the Officer in Charge, Mr. Siran Perera.
Mr. Shanmuganathan told Mr. Perera that bank robbers do not carry crabs, that the STF should have inquired the bank guards if they suspected the youths of being bank robbers. He also asked whether the STF found any arms in the youths' possession - none were.
Mr. Platan reminded the police about the SLMM findings of STF violations of the ceasefire in earlier incidents in Tirrukkovil, Kanchirankudah and Veeramunai, and urged them to "desist from violating the ceasefire and arresting and torturing innocent youths under various pretexts," the Suder Oli newspaper reported.
Mr Platan urged the police not to press patently false charges against the youth and to release them to avoid exacerbating tension in the area, especially in the wake of recent friction between security forces and local in several other places, it said.
People in the Tamil areas of Ampara began observing a hartal to express their outrage at the continuing intimidation and torture by the STF and SLA in Karativu and Kiran, but the strike was later called off at the intervention of the SLMM.
Fliers appeared in the area in the morning urging the public to observe a shut-down to protests at the assault on innocents both on the previous night and the threat made to civilians by STF men in Veeramunai warning local "to prepare their coffins."
Some youth attempted to block roads by burning tyres at around 8.30 am. The police came to clear the roads, only for more tyres to be burnt after they left. Mr. Shanmuganathan came to the area a short while later and persuaded the protestors to disperse.
An uneasy calm was been restored, but with tensions remaining palpable, community leaders said. But for his efforts at preventing a repeat of the previous week's violent protests against the STF and Army, Mr. Shanmuganathan was to receive little thanks from the security forces.
Instead, on Thursday night, the SLMM official received a phone call accusing him of instigating the general shut down and protest against the STF in the Amparai district eight days earlier.
"In fact we [SLMM] intervened to prevent the calamity from spreading by speaking to the Police," Mr. Shanmuganathan said. "That night a person called and warned me I should have a coffin ready in a month for my own funeral," he said.
Mr. Shanmuganathan said that a friend too was threatened with death Friday night, and that he confirmed from the caller line identification facility in his phone that both the threatening calls had originated from the same number. He alleged that the number belongs to a section of the Sri Lankan security forces.
"A section of the State armed forces are trying their best to create a fear psychosis among the Tamils in the east with the sole intention of sabotaging the present peace process," Mr. N. Shanmuganthan, asserted.
Mr. Shanmuganathan, 57, is the additional director of education (English Language) for the Sammanthurai zone in the district of Amparai.
Tamil human rights lawyers and activists assert that the STF and the army have no authority under article 2.12 of the cease-fire agreement (CFA) to search and arrest civilians. Article 2.12 of the CFA states: "The parties agree that search operations and arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act shall not take place. Arrests shall be conducted under due process of law in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code."
Explaining the provision of the CFA, a human rights lawyer in Batticaloa told TamilNet: "The STF and army were granted special extraordinary powers under the PTA and the Public Security Ordinance (Emergency) to arrest, search, question and detain persons. Neither the Emergency nor the PTA is in force now. So the STF and the army can no longer behave as they did before."