It was in January 2006 that some employees of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) were abducted and later killed by members of the breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna.
While the Karuna faction later became known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) Karuna himself along with a section of his loyalists has joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and is now a vice-president of that party and a Deputy minister in the Rajapaksa Government.
I wrote an article on this on the first anniversary of two separate abductions of TRO employees by the Karuna faction then coordinated by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyaan. Seven TRO personnel were killed. One was a woman. She was gang raped before death.
Although there was much speculation about what had befallen the TRO employees there was no concrete account of it till I wrote this article in “The Sunday Leader” of February 4th 2007 to mark the first anniversary of this abduction. I relied on the eye-witness versions of some ex-TMVP cadres in writing this article. They had later fallen out with the leadership and gone abroad.
The TRO President Sivanadiyaar and TRO planning officer Lawrence Christie telephoned me from Kilinochchi after this article appeared to confirm the deaths of these “missing” persons.
On March 14th 2007 the TRO held a ceremony and officially confirmed the deaths of these seven persons.
An International Human Rights organization approached me to get the contact details of these ex-Karuna cadres who provided information to me. I put them in touch with the cadres. But the Human rights activists who interacted with the ex-cadres failed to gain their trust and confidence.
The man who liaised with military intelligence and ordered the abductions later became the Chief minister of the Eastern Province in 2008 and was in charge of law and order. He is yet a Provincial councillor and also an adviser to the Govt on Eastern affairs.The man who was in charge of the abduction was later captured ed, tortured and killed in an intra-TMVP clash. The man who supervised the interrogation of TRO employees was elected as an Eastern Provincial councilor in 2008.
The abductions and their aftermath illustrate vividly the climate of impunity that prevails in Sri Lanka regarding horrible incidents of this nature.
I am reproducing the article here again to denote the 7th anniversary of the incident.
Please keep in mind that the article was written in February 2007-one year after the abductions in January 2006. -DBSJ
Tragic Fate of Seven TRO Employees at the Hands of the TMVP Seven Years Ago
One year has passed since the abductions and resultant disappearances of seven Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) employees took place in Welikande . Five TRO persons travelling from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi were abducted on January 29th Three were released subsequently. On the following day (30th) another TRO vehicle going from B’caloa to Kilinochchi was hi-jacked at Welikande. Five full time TRO employees and ten trainee recruits were on board. The ten rookies were released later but the other five were not. The TRO has been often accused of being a front organization of the tigers.
The incident did not pass unnoticed. Apart from the TRO protests several INGO’s raised the issue. Worldwide appeals for their return were issued.Christina Rocca then US asst secretary of state made an appeal for their release. The reputed human rights organization Amnesty International issued a special statement in March and requested letters of appeal be sent to President Mahinda Rajapakse.
The AI statement provided a terse synopsis of what happened in the two abduction incidents.
“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. It is feared that they may have “disappeared” and there are grave concerns for their safety.” said Amnesty.
Amnesty also issued some Background information about the incident.” 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”.
Amnesty International in an Urgent Action release issued on March 10th 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.
Nothing much has happened in the case despite appeals made by the USA, Amnesty International and several reputed INGO’s. The Commission of Inquiry set up by President Rajapakse to delve into fifteen major incidents of human rights violations excluded the TRO abductions. Appeals made by TRO that these be included have fallen on deaf ears.
The breakaway Karuna faction of the LTTE known as Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) was the prime suspect. Testimonies made by two of the released employees to the Human Rights Commission also indicated that they had seen the name Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal ( TMVP) written in chalk at the camp they were held and interrogated.
But the accusations were denied. A counter – charge was made that the LTTE was responsible. A “story” was floated that a senior LTTE member had advised families of those abducted to keep quiet because it was all a “drama”. It was a LTTE stage – managed act and those “abducted” would return it was said. Nothing has happened. Meanwhile the incidents are passing into the realm of the forgotten.
But the loved ones of the “missing” have not and will not forget. A ceremony was held last week in Kilinochchi to remember the missing seven. The mother of one woman and the wife of one man addressed the gathering. They expressed the belief that the persons were still living and appealed to the world to ensure that they return.Hope springs eternal!
However much one would wish that these abducted human beings whose “humanity” is being obscured by the TRO label be returned or return , recent information gathered by this writer point otherwise. The facts that I am privy to indicate that all seven abducted have been killed. The solitary woman among them was painfully gang raped before being killed. Cadres of the Karuna faction (TMVP) are allegedly responsible.
This writer has been communicating with some sources, well – informed , about some of the goings on, within the Karuna faction. These include disgruntled ex – members who quit the TMVP in disgust over its conduct and the fact that Karuna cadres were functioning as the “running dogs of (Sinhala) Imperialism”. While some of the details divulged by these circles should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism the information provided about the abductions was deeply disturbing. It is after many weeks of probing that I venture to re- construct in print the tragic fate that befell the abducted seven.
The Karuna faction has a man called “Pillaiyan” who is described as the supreme military commander of the TMVP military wing. Pillaiyan was responsible among many things for the assassination of G. Nadesan the “Virakesari” Batticaloa correspondent. He is said to be the main “link” between the TMVP and its military intelligence handlers. Pillaiyan is also the alleged mastermind behind the on going “abduction of Tamil businesmen for ransom” racket in Colombo.
Theevuchenai is a village in the Polonnaruwa district on the borders of Batticaloa. The TMVP had a string of camps in the adjoining jungle areas. An order was given to TMVP cadres at Theevuchenai on Jan 29th evening by Pillaiyan over the telephone. He told them that a van with TRO employees was coming from B’caloa . Pillaiyan commanded his cadres to lie in wait at Welikande and then pick the TRO people up.
A TMVP team led by a man called Sinthujan alias Pratheepan was given the task. Armed Karuna cadres went from Theevuchenai in a white vehicle and waited at Welikande. The Karuna faction cadres in the abduction team were Jeyanthan, Kumar, Pulenthiran, Siranjeevi and Yogan. All of them are in their early twenties.The TRO vehicle proceeded after checking in at the army post at Welikande. The TMVP van followed and at about 8. 30 pm seized the van at gun point in a convenient location. They took the TRO van to Theevuchenai.
The five people in the van were Kasinathar Ganeshalingam, North East Province Secretary of Pre-School Education Development Centre (PSEDC), Ms S.Doshini, PSEDC Coordinator for Manmunai North, Ms Punniyamoorthy Nadeswary, Pre-School teacher at the Vavunatheevi pre-school, Ms Chitravel Sivamathi, Pre-School teacher at the Vavunatheeevu pre-school and vehicle driver Kathirgamar Thangarasa.
The females were separated from the males. Sinthujan himself interrogated the two males while Sitha alias Pradeep the head of TMVP intelligence along with two others questioned the females. Sitha’s claim to notoriety was after the murder of former Tamil National Alliance National list MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas day in 2005.
He was shot dead near the altar at the St. Mary’s cathedral in Batticaloa after partaking of holy communion at the hands of Bishop Kingsley Swampillai. Sitha was identified as one of the two killers and full details were given by the TNA to President Rajapakse. No arrests have been made so far but the “witnesses” who identified Sitha are now abroad in fear of their lives.
The three females were initially questioned by Sitha and Shashi alias Shanthan and Jeeva alias Thilakan. At one stage Sitha separated Doshini from the other two and proceeded to interrogate her alone.Shashi and Jeeva continued questioning Sivamathy and Nadeswari.
Sinthujan himself interogated the two males. Ganeshalingam was from Thellipalai in Jaffna while Thangarasa was from Kilinochchi. Both were from the north while the females were from the East. Both males were assaulted and accused of being Pottu Amman’s intelligence wing operatives. Their Jaffna origins were also ridiculed by Sinthujan. Later both were taken out and personally executed by Sinthujan.
Nadeswari and Sivamathy were cleared by intelligence and handed over to Sinthujan as “clean”. They were released by Sinthujan the following day and put on a bus near the Vavunatheevu army camp.. Both were not physically assaulted and treated quite decently by Shashi and Jeeva. The TMVP were under the impression that some of Pottu Amman’s tiger intelligence operatives were functioning as TRO employees. Once they were convinced that Nadeswari and Sivamathy were not tigers the TMVP intelligence operatives relaxed.
In the case of Doshini it was discovered that she was a close relative of a senior Karuna faction member. This was of some help initially. Thereafter it appears that Sitha took a fancy to Doshini. He “interrogated” her alone and at one point threatened her with death on the charge of being a tiger accomplice. She broke down and sobbed. Sitha comforted her gently. Later Sitha himself drove her back home in his vehicle.
Apparently a Theevuchenai version of the Stockholm syndrome occurred. The captive began “loving” the captor.According to unconfirmed reports Doshini is now living with Sitha as his “common law” spouse. She has not been questioned by the authorities so far and is protected by powerful people.
But Nadeswari and Sivamathy were required to give statements to the Police. They were harassed by Police officials who kept them at the station overnight. The victims were treated as suspects. Both of them also went to Colombo and voluntarily tendered statements to the Human Rights Commission. Ms. Doshini has not made a statement to the HRC.
On the following day (Jan 30th) the TMVP cadres at Theevuchenai received another phone call around noon from Pillaiyaan.Sinthujan was told of a second TRO vehicle proceeding from Batticaloa.The same team led by Sinthujan went to Welikande and followed the same modus operandi. The white van waited at the checkpoint and followed the TRO vehicle . It overtook the TRO van after 100 metres and stopped it around 4. 15 pm .
While Sinthujan remained in the white van the other five (Jeyanthan, Kumar,Pulenthiran, Siranjeevi and Yogan) seized the TRO vehicle.The driver was pulled out and pushed to the road after a few blows. . Yogan got in and drove the hi- jacked vehicle while the TMVP white van followed suit.
The vehicles stopped after getting off the main road. Pulenthiran and Siranjeevi got in and blindfolded all fifteen abductees. The vehicles then proceeded along circuitous routes and reached Theevuchenai. The fifteen were taken in and questioned by Sinthujan, Shashi and Jeeva.
It was found within a short time that eleven of the fifteen were newly recruited trainees on their way to Vavuniya for a training workshop.The others were on their way to TRO headquarters at Kilinochchi. The TMVP was not satisfied about one of the trainee recruits whom they accused of being the henchman of Keerthi the B’caloa area intelligence chief.
The other ten trainees were blindfolded again and taken by van to the A – 11 highway. Kumar, Yogan and Jeyanthan were in the vehicle. At one point one Jeyanthan saw a Police jeep and shouted “munnale Police jeep”. Yogan replied casually “Athu Pirachinai illai” (No problem). When releasing the ten trainees the abductors told them that the last rites could be performed by family members for the other five.
The five persons kept at Theevuchenai were Aruneswararajah Satheeswaran an accounts trainee from Vellaveli;Kailayapillai Ravindran the accountant at Vipulananda Childrens home, Palugamam, Shanmuganathan Sujendiran the accountant of Manikkavasagar Children’s home, Santhively;Thambyrajah Vasantharajan acct at B’ caloa TRO office and Ms.Premini Thanuskody the chief TRO accountant for the Eastern Province. Premini was also an undergraduate at the Eastern university at Vantharumoolai.
All five persons were “interrogated” intensively by TMVP intelligence led by Sitha. Sinthujan was also involved. The men were assaulted and even tortured. Sitha and the other intelligence personnel then left the camp telling Sinthujan “Ini ungadai poruppu” (Now your responsibility).
The four males were then given rice to eat and tea to drink. Afterwards they were blindfolded and put in a pick – up. It was driven into the interior. The men were then forced to walk into the jungle blind- folded.. The blindfolds were removed and they were asked to dig a huge pit. When it was over the weeping men were lined up and shot. TMVP cadres quickly covered up the grave.
The fate of Premini was terrible. The dusky woman with attractive features and a slight squint was taken to another camp and raped first by Sinthujan himself. Threafter it was a horrible gang rape with TMVP cadres taking turns to sexually assault her. Fourteen cadres raped the poor girl. Some troubled TMVP cadres did not participate in the rape but were powerless to stop it.
Premini was heard to shout and cry at the start. Later she merely sobbed and whimpered. Premini was taken out before dawn by TMVP cadres to the jungles. She walked like a “nadaipinam” (walking corpse) without crying or showing signs of emotion said one ex – TMVP cadre. She was apparently hacked to death and thrown into the bushes.
This account of what allegedly happened to the abducted TRO personnel has troubled me greatly. The tragic fate of Premini is deeply distressing. I have re – constructed the tragedy from accounts related by ex – TMVP cadres. It may be possible to persuade them to testify to these incidents at a genuine inquiry if their safety is guaranteed and identity protected.
Meanwhile the onus is on our former human rights champion and current executive president Mahendra Percy Rajapakse to take action in this matter. Looking back one sees the Govt and law-enforcement authorities acting as “obstructors” of justice in this matter. Cabinet ministers accused the TRO of not co-operating thereby implying that the victim organization was at fault. When TRO employees went to lodge complaints they were treated shabbily as if they were the offenders and not the victims. TRO officials made repeated attempts to contact authorities but were simply ignored.All this points to a massive cover up exercise.
I have also heard of one decent Sinhala military intelligence official who tried to probe this incident and the massacre of 12 Sinhala workers at Omadhiyamadhu being killed by Karuna cadres themselves. It may be recalled that the Omadhiyamadhu killings were blamed on the LTTE. According to this ,yet to be confirmed version, the TMVP was responsible for that incident too. The MI official was lured into a trap by Pillaiyan and killed by TMVP cadres. The blame as usual was put on the LTTE.
The case of Welikande abductions did not receive the attention it should have received because TRO personnel were involved. It has been easy to downplay the incidents because the TRO is perceived as a tiger front organization. Even civilian employees of the TRO are treated as terrorist because of suspected LTTE affiliations. The well – designed campaign to cripple the TRO also has not been objected to stronly due to alleged tiger links.
Against this backdrop it was easily possible to float conspiracy theories against the LTTE over the TRO abductions and disbelieve that a massive human rights violation had occurred. I am ashamed to say that I too initially felt that the abductions were choreographed dances of deception. The information that is available now makes me realise the full impact of the incidents. There is a crying need for justice here.
The fact that the LTTE is no saint and that it has perpetrated innumerable human rights violations is widely accepted. Yet in a society that is under the rule of law and has a democratically elected government of gigantic proportions the individual is entitled to fundamental rights. Even those working for the TRO or even LTTE members have those rights however unpalatable it may be to some people. This is a crucial truth that cannot be denied in the tragic episode of the abducted TRO personnel.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org