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Defence Secretary says war crimes accused STF has greater responsibility to counter extremism

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, says the Special Task Force (STF), a police unit accused of committing mass atrocities, has a greater responsibility in countering religious extremism and drug mafia.

During his visit to the STF headquarters, Gunaratne reportedly praised the STF troops for “their professionalism as an elite force” during the civil war which killed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians.

The paramilitary unit is widely understood to be responsible for a range of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings but have not been held accountable for past violations since its establishment in 1984.

Kokkadichcholai massacre

On January 27, STF officers raided a prawn factory in the village, shooting dead the workers, which including seven boys aged between 12 to 14. The killings have since been dubbed the ‘Prawn Farm Massacre’.

According to relatives of the victims, the night before the massacre, government helicopters were seen circling the area. On the morning of the killings, helicopters were seen dropping troops off, as they went on to slaughter dozens of Tamils Some of the workers were then taken to nearby road and shot dead. Forty people, who had been hiding in a nearby farm, were also killed. 

The bodies of those killed were burnt on old tyres, the relatives of the victims said.

Trinco 5 Killings

On January 2 2006, five Tamil students were summarily executed by the STF, whilst they spent an afternoon on the beach on Trincomalee.

The STF’s involvement in the murder was confirmed I a leaked UK Embassy cable from Colombo in October 2006. After the then US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake met with Sri Lankan Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

The cable stated,

Speaking with surprising candor, Rajapaksa explained the GSL's efforts to prove that members of the Security Task Force (STF) murdered five students in Trincomalee in January:

"We know the STF did it, but the bullet and gun evidence shows that they did not.  They must have separate guns when they want to kill someone... We know who did it, but we can't proceed in prosecuting them."

13 STF members who were suspected of executing the five Tamil youth were acquitted last year.

Anti-Muslim Violence

CCTV of anti-Muslim violence in Kandy in 2018 revealed that Sri Lankan politicians and police officers joined mobs launching the attacks, Reuters reported after reviewing the images and speaking to witnesses. 

"Victims and witnesses, whose accounts were partly backed by CCTV footage seen by Reuters, described members of an elite paramilitary police unit, the Special Task Force (STF), assaulting Muslim cleric and leaders," the news wire said. 

One Muslim cleric who witnessed the attack told Reuters that the police "came to attack", beating the people it was supposed to be protecting. 

“They were shouting. There was filthy language. They said all the problems were because of us, that we were like terrorists," he added.

To date, no one has been held accountable for these killings and violence, highlighting the culture of impunity in Sri Lanka.

 

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