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Gang rape, executions and a cover up

One year after seven staff members of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) disappeared after being abducted in Sri Lanka Army - controlled part of the island’s east, there is still no word of their fate.

However, an investigative report published this week by Tamilweek.com says the missing aid workers were executed by paramilitaries of the Karuna Group which took them captive.

A poster appealing for the release of seven TRO workers abducted by Army-backed paramilitaries. But an investigate news report says they have been killed. Photo TamilNet.

The single woman in the group was gang raped by fourteen gunmen before being killed.

The report, compiled by Tamil columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj, is based on interviews with former members of the Karuna Group, formally known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP).

The TVMP is an anti-LTTE paramilitary group set up by a renegade LTTE commander, Karuna, who defected to the Sri Lankan military after his six-week rebellion was crushed in an LTTE offensive in early 2004.

Five TRO staff travelling from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi through government-controlled territory were abducted on January 29, 2006 near Welikande. Three were subsequently released.

On the following day (30) another TRO vehicle going from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi was hijacked, also at Welikande. Five full time TRO employees and ten trainee recruits were on board. The ten rookies were released later but the other five were not.

Initially, the LTTE was blamed.

Although the TRO has been often accused of being a front organization of the Tigers and many accused the LTTE of ‘staging’ the incidents to provide a plausible excuse to avoid upcoming Norwegian brokered talks in Geneva.

However the Tigers did attend – making their prime demand the disarming of government-backed anti-LTTE paramilitary groups, including the Karuna Group, named after the renegade LTTE commander which heads it.

Later there was a flurry of protests. Several international organisations, including Amnesty International appealed for the TRO workers to be released. Christina Rocca, then US Assistant Secretary of State joined the calls.

However nothing happened.

And in a shocking report published this week, Mr. Jeyarajah says: “the facts that I am privy to indicate that all seven abducted have been killed. The solitary woman among them was painfully gang raped before being killed.”

Amongst the sources for the report are disgruntled ex - members who quit the TMVP in disgust over its conduct and the fact that Karuna cadres were functioning as the ‘running dogs of (Sinhala) Imperialism,’ he says.

Admitting that some of the sources were suspect, he notes however: “it is after many weeks of probing that I venture to re- construct in print the tragic fate that befell the abducted seven.”

The orders for the TRO abductions were issued by Pillaiyan (one name only), who is described as the supreme military commander of the TMVP military wing.

Pillaiyan is said to be the main link between the TMVP and its Sri Lankan military intelligence handlers. He is also the alleged mastermind behind the ongoing abductions of Tamil businesmen for ransom in Colombo.

The team which abducted both TRO vehicles was headed by Sinthujan (alias Pratheepan).

When the first TRO vehicle was stopped on Jan 29, it had five TRO staff: two male (Tamils from the north) and three female (Tamils from the east).

The two men (Kasinathar Ganeshalingam and Kathirgamar Thangarasa) were assaulted and interrogated. Later both were taken out and personally executed by Sinthujan.

Of the three females, two (Ms Punniyamoorthy Nadeswary and Ms Chitravel Sivamathi) were released after interrogation.

The last female, Ms S.Doshini, was found to be a relative of a senior Karuna Group member. Although harshly interrogated by Sitha alias Pradeep the head of TMVP intelligence, she later formed a relationship with him.

According to unconfirmed reports Doshini is now living with Sitha as his ‘common law’ spouse, Tamilweek reported, adding: “She has not been questioned by the authorities so far and is protected by powerful people.”

Sitha gained notoriety after being identified as one of the two gunmen who assassinated Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas day in 2005.

Pararajasingham was shot dead near the altar at the St. Mary’s cathedral in Batticaloa partaking of holy communion from Bishop Kingsley Swampillai.

Despite Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse being appraised, no arrests have been made so far but the witnesses who identified Sitha are now abroad in fear of their lives.

On Jan 30, the second TRO vehicle was ambushed. It contained four staff and eleven newly recruited trainees.

After interrogation, ten of the trainees were released. They were told to conduct the last rites for the five people – four men and one woman - still in custody.

All five were violently interrogated by a team lead by Sitha, who was accompanied by Sinthujan. The men were assaulted and even tortured.

Sitha and his intelligence team left, telling Sinthujan the rest was ‘his responsibility.’

“The four were blindfolded and driven into the interior of the jungle. The men were then forced to walk blind- folded. The blindfolds were removed and they were asked to dig a huge pit. When it was over the weeping men were lined up and shot. TMVP cadres quickly covered up the grave.”

“The fate of Premini was terrible. The dusky woman with attractive features and a slight squint was taken to another camp and raped first by Sinthujan himself.”

“Thereafter it was a horrible gang rape with TMVP cadres taking turns to sexually assault her. Fourteen cadres raped the poor girl. Some troubled TMVP cadres did not participate in the rape but were powerless to stop it.”

Premini was heard to shout and cry at the start. Later she merely sobbed and whimpered.

Premini was taken out before dawn by TMVP cadres to the jungles. She walked like a “nadaipinam” (walking corpse) without crying or showing signs of emotion one ex - TMVP cadre told Mr. Jeyaraj. She was apparently hacked to death and thrown into the bushes.

There has been a massive cover up of the incident, Mr. Jeyaraj says.

Sri Lankan Cabinet ministers accused the TRO of not co-operating thereby implying that the victim organization was at fault.

When TRO employees went to lodge complaints they were treated shabbily as if they were the offenders and not the victims. TRO officials made repeated attempts to contact authorities but were simply ignored.

Mr. Jeyaraj says other incidents are also being covered up.

“I have also heard of one decent Sinhala military intelligence official who tried to probe this [TRO abductions] incident and the massacre of 12 Sinhala workers at Omadhiyamadhu being killed by Karuna cadres themselves,” he says.

Mr. Jeyaraj argued that the accusations the TRO is an LTTE ‘front’ has made it easy to float conspiracy theories against the Tigers.

“The case of Welikande abductions did not receive the attention it should have received because TRO personnel were involved.

“It has been easy to downplay the incidents because the TRO is perceived as a tiger front organization. Even civilian employees of the TRO are treated as terrorist because of suspected LTTE affiliations.”

“There is a crying need for justice here.”

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