The 'Disappeared' in Sri Lanka In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers have a reputation of killing rivals, and kidnapping children to serve in their ranks. Now, there are growing allegations that government security forces, or their proxies, are operating deaths squads with impunity.
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The 'Disappeared' in Sri Lanka

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The 'Disappeared' in Sri Lanka

The 'Disappeared' in Sri Lanka

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Almost every day, without the world taking much notice, someone disappears in Sri Lanka. 'Disappears' is a euphemism. Often it really means abducted and killed. And the number of killings has risen sharply since the resumption of fighting between the island's government forces and Tamil separatists.

The fighting and the disappearances are fueling fears that the island is heading back to all out civil war.

NPR's Philip Reeves has just returned from Sri Lanka. He filed this report.

PHILIP REEVES: In a grubby hovel sandwiched between a road and a railway track, Madhi Badansoti(ph) tells the story of her daughter Komadhy's disappearance.

Ms. MADHI BADANSOTI: (Through Translator) Eight people forcibly entered to my daughter's residence. And they blindfolded her domestic aids and she had been forcefully taken out.

REEVES: Komadhy's a successful young airline official. A month ago, she was snatched from her home in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. Madhi says every hour since then has been agony.

Ms. BADANSOTI: (Through Translator) It's unbearable. Unbearable. And she's the one who looked after us.

REEVES: The family is from Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. Komadhy's father, Lokan Diraraja(ph), says they've been to see the authorities again and again about her but keep getting the brush off.

Mr. LOKAN DIRARAJA: (Through Translator) No, nobody has so far given any concrete assurance, but every time when you make inquiries, they say that we are still making inquiries.

REEVES: So desperate are Komadhy's parents that they now spend most of their time going from fortune teller to fortune teller. They carry Komadhy's astrological chart, compiled at her birth 34 years ago. They're hoping the stars will somehow reveal clues about their daughter's fate.

Hundreds of Sri Lankan's have been abducted this year. After war between the Senilis(ph) dominated government and Tamil Tiger separatists flared anew, few of those taken emerge alive.

Three of them wound up here, a windswept mud lane outside the government controlled city of Vavoonia(ph). They were blindfolded, handcuffed, lined up against a tree and shot. This is a mixed Senilis-Tamil community, a location that suggests someone's trying to stir up still more bloodshed between Sri Lanka's ethnic groups.

Residents say they saw the three men, believed to have been Senilis, being dragged out of a white unmarked van, but this man who lives a few yards from the scene says people are too frightened to speculate about who carried out the killings.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) When there's an incident and people see that incident, they always try to ignore. They try to forget about it because they don't want to come out with a true story because they are too scared. And the reason, next minute or next day they will get shot.

REEVES: That white van story is common in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers have a record of abducting and killing their enemies and kidnapping children for military service. But suspicions abound that the vans are being used by killers from the Sri Lankan security forces or paramilitaries acting with their knowledge, including the Karuna faction, a breakaway group from the Tigers.

Chiva Tiaga Raja(ph) who heads a consortium of humanitarian agencies in Sri Lanka says many civilians now live in fear.

Mr. CHIVA TIAGA RAJA (Humanitarian consortium): For particularly those in the northeast, it's absolute terror. For those in Jaffna who are garrisoned, it is total terror and they just don't feel protected at all.

REEVES: In the eastern town of Trincomalee(ph), people certainly don't feel protected.

Rose Jalit Maria(ph), a Tamil, has spent the last month and a half there in a refugee camp, having fled her village nearby because of the fighting. She's heard plenty of stories about the disappearances around Trincamolee, but is reluctant to talk.

People are very frightened here to talk about this, aren't they?

Ms. ROSE JALIT MARIA: Yes, yes.

Mr. ROGER ANMOHAM(ph) (Trincomalee Chamber of Commerce): We just walk into a shop and they ask are you so and so? Like a friend when he comes in.

REEVES: That's Roger Anmoham chairman of Trincomalee's chamber of commerce.

Mr. ANMOHAM: If he says yes, one shot on his head - just one shot. And the motorcycle outside doesn't stop. It waits with engine on. He gets into that and he just goes away.

REEVES: Roger Anmoham says there have been plenty of killings. The government of Sri Lanka denies any involvement, but says defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, the government is looking into the issue.

Mr. KEHELIYA RAMBUKWELLA (Spokesman, Defense): I must tell you, really honestly that we are checking our responsibilities. Our responsibility will be to - will be our best to see that things are at least brought to justice. Then the only way, I think, we can disprove of the speculations by some quarters saying that the government has a hand in it, by bringing the perpetrators (unintelligible).

REEVES: Rambukwella says a government commission's been established to investigate disappearances.

For Khamedy's parents, the memory won't fade anytime soon. Her mother continues to visit the fortune tellers. She still hopes he daughter's coming home.

Ms. BADANSOTI: (Through translator) I still believe that she return home safely. I have that belief in myself.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. New Delhi.

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