23 April 2007
Sri Lanka Army backed paramilitaries are running amok in government controlled Muslim village of Pottuvil, terrorizing residents and extorting money, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.
Gunmen from the Karuna Group are roaming freely with weapons, threatening and extorting money from people in Pottuvil, a predominantly Muslim village in Ampara, the paper said.
“They go around with weapons on motorbikes and are said to be threatening people on the streets. They have also extorted money from people,” a resident has told the Daily Mirror.
“All this is happening while the police and the STF stand around doing nothing,” the resident said, referring to the Special Task Force (STF), the elite counter-insurgency arm of the police.
According to the Peace Secretariat for Muslims (PSM), a peace coordinating body formed by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the National Unity Alliance, the country’s two main Muslim parties, the matter had already brought up with the international community as a matter of urgency.
“We have already brought the Pottuvil crisis to the attention of the co-chairs and are awaiting speedy action,” a PSM spokesman said.
“Maintaining law and order is the duty of the police, and in special cases the Army too has a role to play. But in Pottuvil the police including the STF and the Army have become mere by-standers while the Karuna group is running the writ through the town” said a PSM spokesman.
The Karuna Group 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.
It is officially known by its political party name - Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP).
Reporters who are able to visit the districts of the eastern province say gunmen and child soldiers of the Karuna Group are brazenly wandering about Sri Lankan government controlled areas in plain sight of the security forces.
But when the Daily Mirror contacted the Karuna Group, spokesman Azad Maulana denied their cadres were roaming the town with weapons in government controlled area.
The paper said that some Muslim youth in Pottuvil are threatening to take up arms for self-protection if Karuna Group cadres are not brought under control.
Meanwhile, the Karuna group, which is accused by international human rights agencies for forcibly recruiting children with the assistance of the Sri Lankan security forces, was this week accused of paying off parents in an attempt to reduce the number of complaints.
Human rights agencies said the paramilitary group was paying up to Sri Lanka Rupees 6000 per month to parents of children it forcibly recruits to ensure their compliance and not report the abduction to human right organizations.
The sum is a considerable amount for many people in the impoverished eastern districts.
According to UNICEF, there were 45 reported cases of Karuna child abductions in three months – 10 in December, 24 in January, and 11 in February. Among these were three children abducted by Karuna cadre from camps for internally displaced persons in Batticaloa district.
The actual number is likely to be far higher because many parents are afraid to report cases or have been paid off, human rights groups say.
Despite promises to investigate abductions of children by the pro-government Karuna group, Sri Lankan authorities have taken no effective action and abductions continue, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last month.
“The Karuna group is doing the government’s dirty work,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said. “It’s time for authorities in Colombo to stop this group from using children in its forces.”
In a wider attempt to stamp its authority in the eastern province the Karuna Group is demanding people to bring their concerns to their offices instead of the police.
The Karuna Group has also written to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the eastern districts to register with them.
In a letter sent to international and local humanitarian agencies the paramilitaries demanded that the recipients complete and returns a detailed questionnaire by April 31.
In a pointed threat, they also warned that if the recipient did not comply it “would not be responsible for their safety.”
The letter which was written in broken English posed questions such as – “Are you trying to help LTTE?’, ‘Are you try to show, you are the man of humanitarian?’, ‘Are you try to help separate this country?’, ‘Are you want to be a LTTE hero?’, ‘Are tried to help LTTE propaganda?”
It was signed by the “Intelligent (sic) unit, Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Party.”