The Sri Lankan government will soon release a list of persons who surrendered to the Armed forces in final phase of the country’s civil war, President Maithripala Sirisena assured families of disappeared persons in Jaffna on Monday.
His promise comes 112 days after hundreds of relatives of missing persons, said to be forcefully disappeared, began a protest in Kilinochchi in the Tamil-majority Northern Province. On May 30, the 100th day of the agitation, families blocked a key highway connecting the island’s south to the north to draw attention to the government’s perceived inaction on their numerous complaints.
They had also sought a meeting with President Sirisena.
On Monday, the President, along with and a team of senior ministers and bureaucrats, met eight representatives of the protesting families at the Governor’s secretariat and held discussions for 40 minutes, those present at the meeting told The Hindu.
Responding to the families’ demands, President Sirisena said he would take up the matter in Tuesday’s National Security Council meeting in Colombo, participants said.
An estimated 65,000 persons have petitioned the government about their missing loved ones. At least six commissions have been set up by the different governments since 1990 to address the problem but there has been little progress. In August 2016, the Sri Lankan government passed a legislation to set up an office on missing persons, but it is yet to be operationalised.
“We have been in great anxiety for years without any information about our disappeared children. The President’s assurance today [Monday] is a first step and raises our expectations again. But since the authorities have failed to keep promises in the past I don’t know whether it will actually happen. In any case our protest will continue until that time,” said Yogarasa Kanakaranjani from Kilinochchi, one of the representatives at the meeting. Her son disappeared during the final phase of the war in 2009 after surrendering to the Army, she said.
President Sirisena’s promise to pass necessary orders at the National Security Council meeting is significant, said Jaffna University academic Guruparan Kumaravadivel, who is also a spokesman for the Tamil Civil Society Forum. He attended the meeting as an observer.
The National Security Council has President Sirisena, who is also the Defence Minister, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm. All three service commanders are its members, along with the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of National Intelligence. It takes key policy decisions on matters pertaining to national security.
“People may be sceptical about whether his orders will materialise or not, but the fact he made a public pronouncement at the meeting is important,” Mr. Guruparan said.
Earlier on Monday, the President met the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and members of parliament from Jaffna district to discuss development programmes for the north, a statement from his office said. Matters regarding land, employment, water, housing and education were discussed.