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Looking for Sri Lanka’s missing droves

COLOMBO (UCAN): The resistance of the government of Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes committed during the 1983 to 2009 conflict between the army and the Tigers of Tamil Eelam has sown doubt and cynicism about a new office set up to investigate the fate of missing persons.

Father P. Jebaratnam, from Jaffna, which was heavily affected during the civil war, said that the office is necessary, but questioned its genuineness, based on past experiences.

“This has to help, but I don’t think all will benefit out of it, only some will,” Father Jebaratnam commented on May 27.

“Even government officers don’t have an answer, because they don’t know where to locate them and they put the blame on the other side,” he pointed out.

Nevertheless, the decision to try to trace the fate of thousands of people who are still missing has been welcomed with caution.

The majority of missing people date back to the start of the civil war, which the United Nations says claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone.

Father Jebaratnam said some people believe it is possible that their relatives are still alive, as they were taken by the military for questioning or even rehabilitation.

The foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, said on May 25 that the Office of Missing Persons will be tasked to recommend compensation and help the families of those affected to take legal action against anyone responsible for the disappearances of their relatives.

Most of those missing are from Tamil families.

In addition, a militant Communist group, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), also launched two armed uprisings in Sri Lanka, the first in 1971 and the second between 1987 and 1989.

They were quickly suppressed by the government, but it is estimated that 60,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Nevertheless, there have been some signs of hope that positive things can happen. In December last year, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to prison for raping and beating a young girl in Kandy back in 1995 (Sunday Examiner, March 20) .

Father Nandana Manatunga, from the Human Rights Office Kandy, said that although the result is a great breakthrough, the case began in an extremely hostile atmosphere and it was only the great courage of the young woman bringing the complaint and strong support from the local community that enabled it to continue.

The government says their Office for Missing Persons will follow best practice along the lines of initiatives that were carried out in Uganda, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.

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