TamilWeek Feb 5, 2006
Confusion reigns as TRO abduction drama
deepens

By Gihan de Chickera

Just days after the Norwegians announced a breakthrough in the
impasse between the Government and the LTTE, mystery surrounds the
multiple abduction of Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) workers in
Welikanda in the Polonnaruwa district.

Conflicting reports have been made concerning the disappearance of
these workers near a military checkpoint in Welikanda. Confusion prevails
even as many a conspiracy theory unfolds.

The TRO is claiming that these abductions took place while the Tamil
National Alliance (TNA) alleges that paramilitary groups and sections of
the government forces are responsible for the abductions.

The incident has also served to heighten tensions between the
government and the LTTE, after the recent bonhomie following the
breakthrough.

A total of 20 TRO workers were allegedly abducted in two separate
incidents on Sunday (Jan 29) and Monday (Jan 30) by an unidentified
armed gang dressed in civilian clothes. The vehicle they were traveling in
was waylaid near an Army checkpoint in Welikanda on the A11 highway
and in both instances the kidnappers, in an unlicensed white van, had
forced the vehicle used by the TRO workers to stop by overtaking it and
blocking its path. It was the news of the second abduction that was known
first and made public resulting in some confusion in the south over the
chronology of the events.

The kidnappers had released twelve of the abductees in two separate
batches -on Monday night (Jan 30), and another yesterday but seven
workers - six men and a women -still remain missing. Five of the missing
are Accountants including the TRO Batticaloa Chief Accountant Ms.
Thanuskody Premini, one is attached to the Pre School Education
Development Centre (PSEDC) and one is a driver. The accountants were
abducted in the second incident and the PSEDC workers in the first.

The second abduction took place on January 30, the same day the
Karuna faction announced a unilateral ceasefire in the East to aid the
CFA talks, which the LTTE had agreed to on January 25th as a result of
successful mediation by Norway's peace envoy Erik Solheim.

The TRO announced on Tuesday morning that five of its staff travelling
from the Batticaloa TRO office to Vavuniya for an accounting workshop
had been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen after passing through the
Welikanda Army Checkpoint on Monday (Jan 30) evening at about 4 pm.

According to the TRO 14 of its Batticaloa staff members (10 women and
four men) and a hired driver had left Batticaloa at approximately 2 pm in a
hired van bearing licence plate No. 250-8993. The TRO staff vehicle had
registered at the Welikanda army checkpoint and continued its journey in
the direction towards Polonnaruwa on its way to its final destination
Vavuniya.

According to one of the released women, a van had been parked a few
metres away from the checkpoint. She says the white van had forced the
vehicle carrying the TRO personnel to stop approximately 100 metres
past the security checkpoint on the main road. "A white van that was
parked a few metres away from the check point started to follow and
waylaid the TRO vehicle. Five men (aged between 20 and 25) got off
from the white van and entered the vehicle. One of them dragged the
driver out and dumped him into the back seat, and started driving into the
nearby surrounding jungle area" her statement says.

All the captives were blindfolded and had their hands tied. They had been
taken to a jungle area where they were questioned for two hours. The
woman's statement says that during the questioning they were abused
both mentally and physically. Eventually nine girls and the driver were put
back in the vehicle with the driver and taken back to the main road while
five were kept back. The abductors had apparently told the people they
were releasing to prepare the last rites of the five people who remained in
their possession.

The woman says in her statement that when they came to the main road
one of the abductors had shouted that there was a police jeep up ahead
but another had replied that it was not a problem for them. She also
states that all the abductors were "fluent Tamil speakers". However in an
updated and clarified report released by the TRO a few hours after the
initial statement this particular fact had been omitted. The motives behind
the TRO to purposely omit this potentially decisive piece of evidence in
their second report appear dubious.

Added to this is the media report in the internet based newspaper 'Asia
Tribune' yesterday which says that several of the TRO workers who were
released had said that their kidnappers had been speaking in Sinhala,
Tamil and Hindi. This shows a discrepancy in the first TRO statement
which says the kidnapper spoke Tamil, the second statement which omits
this fact and reports from other victims that the kidnappers spoke in
Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi. A TRO official in Colombo however was unable
to verify the Asia Tribune report.

The combination of Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi obviously aims at implicating
the abductors as members of the Military, the Karuna faction and Indian
influence. The only party which would benefit from trying to prove that the
Military, Karuna and possibly India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)
is responsible for the abductions is the LTTE and its sympathizers.

Fourteen hours after the news of the abduction of the 15 TRO members,
the aid agency issued another statement at 11 pm on Tuesday, saying
that a second group of five workers had gone missing in the same area in
the same fashion. Although this story was the second to surface the five
personnel had actually been abducted the day before - on Sunday (Jan
29) before the Karuna ceasefire.

The five persons who disappeared on Sunday comprised, two TRO Pre
School Education Development Center (PSEDC) personnel, two
pre-school teachers of the Vavunatheevu Pre School and a driver. They
were in a vehicle bearing licence plate no WP PA 3074 travelling from
Batticaloa to Kilinochchi. The group had travelled from Kilinochchi to the
Batticaloa district to evaluate the construction of some pre schools in the
area.

The team was scheduled to meet an INGO named FORUT in Kilinochchi
on Tuesday at 10 am, and it was only after they failed to turn up for the
meeting that it was noticed they were missing. It was later discovered that
the two pre school teachers had been released on Monday January 30
but had remained silent because they had been threatened not to tell
anyone about the incident. However after they found out that the TRO
had made a statement about the disappearances they contacted the
TRO Batticaloa office on Wednesday Feb 1st.

The PSEDC vehicle according to the pre school teachers Ms
Punniyamoorthi Nadeswari and Ms Siththiravel Sivamathi had left
Valachchenai after some work on Sunday Jan 29 and had been hijacked
near the same Welikanda checkpoint at approximately 8 pm the same
day. The statement says that they saw a white hi-ace vehicle following
their vehicle. They were checked at the Welikanda checkpoint and that
time they had seen the same van parked behind their vehicle. "When we
moved a short distance from the checkpoint the white van came behind
us, overtook our vehicle and stopped us. Some men got down from the
white van assaulted Mr. Ganeshalingam and the driver tied them up and
dumped them in the back of the vehicle. Then they drove the vehicle into
the jungle area. After a long drive the vehicle stopped at 11:30 pm" the
teacher's statement says.

The captives were kept overnight and released the next day at 9 pm after
being held for 25 hours. The two women were brought to the main road
and put into a bus with a warning not to make a report to the police or
anyone else.

Contrary to the hurriedly-made statement by Foreign Minister Mangala
Samaraweera that no police statements had been made about the
abductions the TRO Administrative officer in Batticaloa had in fact filed a
police report on Tuesday morning at the Batticaloa police station about
the group of TRO staff abducted on Monday night Jan 30.

The two teachers had also later gone to the Batticaloa police station on
Thursday to file a report but were kept overnight against their wishes.
They were told they had to be detained until a CID team arrived from
Colombo to question them. Requests that the women be allowed to return
to their families or the ICRC offices until the CID is ready to interview them
were not heeded.

Further, on Wednesday 1 February two of the female accountants who
were abducted, and subsequently released, and two of the mothers of the
missing men who were also abducted in the second incident, went to the
Welikanda checkpoint with two SLMM officials close to the location where
the abductions took place. The women had described the sequence of
events to the SLMM and identified the location of the abduction.

The SLMM then accompanied the two female accountants to the
Welikanda Police Station, where they submitted a report to the Police
describing how, when, and where the abduction occurred. While at the
Welikanda Police Station, the girls discussed the events of their
abduction with CID officers as well who had travelled from Colombo. The
same CID team had also questioned the TRO Colombo staff on Tuesday
afternoon.

In addition to this the mothers of two male accountants who had been
kidnapped at the same time as the two women also filed separate missing
person reports at the Welikanda Police Station. TRO project consultant in
Colombo Arjunan Ethirveerasingm had also notified IGP Chandra
Fernando and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe of the abductions at a
meeting on the Ceasefire Agreement on January 31 at the Foundation for
Co- Existence.

There remains a dispute over whether the TRO vehicles subjected to the
abductions in point of fact passed through the checkpoint in Welikanda.
Although the workers released say that they had registered at the
Checkpoint both the Military and the SLMM have not verified this fact.
This is indeed crucial to the matter which cannot be swept under the
carpet. If the TRO workers statements are genuine then a crucial fact is
that the vehicle used by the kidnappers had passed through the very
same checkpoint. According to the TRO workers there was no number
plate on the vehicle used by the abductors. The Military and the SLMM
must come up with statements about this immediately.

Another significant fact is that in the second abduction case, there
seemed to be a deliberate targeting of the Accountants working for the
TRO. These accountants would be privy to the large funds of the TRO -
an organization which was crossed off from the UK charity commission list
in August last year for mishandling of its funds. However the organization
continues to function as a charity in Sri Lanka.

Eventually what is important is for the government to ensure the truth is
revealed. An intensive investigation must be launched to bring the culprits
to justice. The fact that the CID has been brought in and is recording
statements is a good sign. It is also imperative that the State shows no
bias against the TRO given its obvious links with the LTTE. The security
forces showed enormous restraint in the face of the recent LTTE attacks
and such maturity must also be shown in its approach to these
investigations.

The TRO has said they would give the police full support to carryout
investigations. The government must take up this challenge. The United
States which made a strong statement in support of the government
before the announcement of the Geneva talks has also called for prompt
action on the TRO matter and the government must show the world that
they are committed to resolve the issue and be transparent. Rash
statements by senior ministers are uncalled for especially since they
could have a direct impact on peace negotiations.

In addition to the TRO case there are two other incidents of violence for
which the government needs to show results. First is that that the identity
of one of the assailants in MP Joseph Pararajasingham assassination is
known and the other is that the group responsible for the death of the five
youth off the Trincomalee coast is also identifiable. If not for the coroner's
report, which concluded the youth had been shot, would that incident also
have been one where allegations and counter allegations were just being
thrown around?

The Karuna group which goes by the name of Tamileelam Makkal
Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) which translates into Tamileelam Peoples
Liberation Tigers is very much active in the East. They have has also
hinted that they want to be part of peace negotiations. It is also an open
secret that the armed forces, if not colluding, are at least turning a blind
eye to the activities of the TMVP. The SLMM however recently said there
was no evidence of direct links between security forces and paramilitary
groups.

The LTTE of course should not try to find an excuse to withdraw from the
Geneva talks. The LTTE has nothing to lose from going to Geneva.

However there are certain discrepancies in the TRO reports as well which
may point to this whole thing being doctored by the LTTE to bring
discredit to the government. However the fact remains that if the LTTE
indeed is responsible for staging this drama, then it would be
advantageous to the government to investigate the matter and expose
the LTTE and TRO gimmick to the entire world. After all 13 of the 20
abducted are free and the CID has full access to them. What more can an
investigator want than several eyewitness reports? For example the
abductees after all said that they were physically assaulted and the
investigators must try and verify this.

Meanwhile the SLMM also needs to make their stance on the matter
clear. If nothing at all they have a responsibility to at least verify if the
vehicles that the TRO members were travelling passed the Welikanda
checkpoint.

Any failure to make the results known would mean one of three things.
Either the security forces directly colluded with the Karuna group in the
kidnapping, the security forces have evidence that the Karuna faction
carried out the kidnapping but are not willing to say so or the LTTE is
responsible for the entire drama and the security forces and intelligence
are so incompetent that they cannot prove this, despite being in the
possession of eyewitness accounts.[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]
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