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Story of the Colombo 'safe house'

The arrest of a Tamil youth, Poobalapillai Kantharajah, 26, from Batticaloa, on September 29, shed light on an abduction and extortion racket that has plagued the eastern city for some time.

Investigations carried out following the arrest show that although several complaints had been made to the police with regard to suspicious activities taking place in highly residential areas in the city, no attention was paid to them and no action taken on the complaints made.

In fact, in one instance, the police had told several residents who lodged a complaint on suspicious activities taking place in their neighbourhood that they need not worry as they were aware of it and that the persons in question were affiliated to the Karuna Group.

The Sunday Leader learns that the leader of the group of abductors was once arrested by the Athurugiriya police, but was released following orders from the IGP.

Kantharajah was arrested by the Kotahena Police on a tip-off by the son of an abducted businessman and was captured when he was collecting the ransom money for the release of the businessman.

During interrogation, Kantharajah confessed that he was affiliated to the Karuna group and that there were two groups affiliated to the Karuna Group who were behind the abductions of Tamil businessmen in Colombo.

Kantharajah has revealed to the police that apart from the group he was affiliated to, there was another group that carried out abductions as well. However, this group he has said took those abducted to areas in the Polonnaruwa District.

According to informed sources, Kantharajah was arrested once earlier by a special police crime detection unit, but was released soon after on orders received from the IGP.

Kantharajah said that the groups were led by one T. Nagulendran who resided in a house in Malabe.

The group has also had another house in Thalangama, from where they operated. Both houses have been taken on rent from Sinhalese people and the van used for the abductions was also owned by a Sinhalese, according to Kantharajah. The house Kantharajah was living in at the time of his arrest was raided and searched by the Kotahena Police soon after he was taken into custody.

"We knew they were Tamils and we saw some of them carrying batteries to the house. So we told the police that there were some suspicious activities taking place in the house," a resident said.

The response from the police is something that would astound anyone. The response had been that no one living down the lane should worry as they were members of the Karuna Group.

"The police said that and after that what can we say?" one neighbour asked.

The Sunday Leader also spoke to the Thalangama Police, who denied knowledge of any suspicious activities taking place in the area. In fact, the police said that they had no idea of a house in Thalangama being raided on September 29 following a statement made by Kantharajah.

As for the complaints lodged by residents, the police dismissed it by saying that they receive a lot of complaints from people in the area of suspicious activities and sometimes they receive complaints of paper sellers and beggars on the road as well.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has appointed a one-member committee to report on the abductions taking place in the city.

Tamil politicians however are sceptical of the whole process as they feel it is yet another attempt made by the government to fool the public.

TNA Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan charged in parliament last week that the government has so far not taken any steps to address the issue of abductions of Tamil civilians by armed gangs.

The arrest of Kantharajah saw many versions of his affiliations coming to light. The government initially went on record publicly claiming that he was an LTTE cadre, who was collecting funds for the organisation.

This statement however was made by the government even after the suspect himself had confessed to being a Karuna cadre giving out all details of the group's activities in the city, especially with regard to abductions and extortion.

However, later a spokesperson from the Karuna faction was also reported admitting that the police had indeed captured one of their cadres. The spokesperson had also maintained that the cadre was arrested on baseless allegations.

The government then kept quiet about the whole issue and maintained that it was still investigating into the true affiliations of the suspect arrested by the police.

Government Defence Spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told a media briefing last week that anyone carrying out such activities would be brought to book, even if it was Karuna or his men.

Rambukwella also noted that the government was still looking for Karuna.


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