13 March 2007
Army-backed paramilitaries are infiltrating overcrowded refugee camps in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa district and abducting residents while extorting money from Tamil businessmen in the capital, Colombo, reports said.
In a statement citing what it calls reliable sources, Amnesty International this week said that men wearing uniforms of the Karuna group are roaming the camps, and even distributing relief goods.
Meanwhile, even Sri Lanka’s deputy minister for Vocational Training and Industrial Education, P. Radhakrishnan protested that at least 30 Tamil business persons were approached by paramilitary operatives identifying themselves as Karuna Group who had demanded 5 million Sri Lankan rupees from each.
Taking up the matter on behalf of those affected, Mr Radhakrishnan had lodged a complaint with the Sri Lankan Police and escalated the matter to Inspector General of Police Mr victor Perera and Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse, who is also a brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
However no action has been taken by the authorities to investigate the matter, the Minister said fuelling doubts that elements of the government are colluding with the paramilitary group’s plan to extort money.
The Sri Lankan military launched a new offensive against the LTTE in the eastern province last weekend using indiscriminate shelling and air raids on Tamil villages and triggering a large exodus.
Humanitarian agencies say over 130,000 people have fled their homes from LTTE controlled territory into government controlled territory taking refuge in schools and places of worship.
Purna Sen, Asia Pacific Direct at Amnesty International accusing the paramilitary group of infiltrating refugee camps said "We are hearing reports of armed men, wearing the uniforms of the Karuna faction, roaming the camps and even distributing relief goods.”
“The Karuna faction appears to operate throughout Batticaloa town with the complicity of the Sri Lankan authorities," Sen said.
"The people who have been forced to flee the fighting are in an extremely vulnerable position: they have left behind their livelihoods and their homes, they may not know the area and they are likely to be very scared,”
“The government has a responsibility to ensure that camps are safe and civilian in nature -- it is unacceptable for men with guns to be wandering around as if they're in control."
Amnesty cited an attempt by paramilitary operatives arriving in a white van to abduct a 15 year old boy near the a refugee camp in the presence of Sri Lankan Army soldiers who did not step in to help. The attempt was foiled when the boy’s screams attracted the locals which led to the abductors fleeing the scene.
In recent months a number of international organisations have accused the Sri Lankan security forces of colluding with paramilitary groups and committing grave human right violations.
In January 2007, US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that the Karuna Group was forcing hundreds of children and young adults to serve as soldiers and said the paramilitaries appear to act with complicity of the authorities.
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said “The government is fully aware of the abductions but allows them to happen because it’s eager for an ally against the Tamil Tigers.”
In November 2006, following a fact finding mission to Northeast, United Nations Special Envoy Mr Alan Rock concluded that paramilitary groups assisted by the government forces are engaged in forcible recruitment of child soldiers.
“The Karuna faction abducts and recruits children into its forces. It does so exclusively in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka. Since May 2006, the number of abductions has increased sharply. The Karuna faction abductions took place exclusively in Government-controlled areas,” Rocks observed.
“The fact that the Karuna faction has abducted so many children in Government-controlled areas in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka raises the question why the Government has not more effectively protected those children, investigated the complaints made by the children’s families, and secured the release and return of the children from the Karuna faction camps that are located in areas under Government control,” the UN envoy asked.
” Based on the facts and circumstances set out in this report, I have concluded that certain elements of the Sri Lankan security forces are complicit in the abduction of children by the Karuna faction, and that at least some elements of the security forces have facilitated and sometimes participated in those abductions. ”