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Get out of Colombo

A reportage from Sri Lanka (1)

by Carla Lee, Colombo, 09 May 2009

“I have no guarantee for my life. They will finish me off if I do not listen to their words.”

The University graduate Tamil man Lackshman (name changed, late 20s) was sobbing out. Having torture marks over his body, he was lucky to be spared his life by his abductors unlikely many others who never returned home. But he was warned to get out of Colombo “within days”.

Lackshman has left Jaffna, the northern peninsula, in 2005 out of fear as many of his friends were shot dead by unknown persons in Jaffna. He’s been working since then for a shop in Colombo, which is affiliated with one of the Tamil political parties that runs paramilitary forces. In April 2008, he was arrested by police while he was waiting outside the shop to be open. The opening of the shop was unusually delayed on that day. 

Tamil neighbourhood in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. The ‘White Van Abduction’ has been targeting mainly Tamil population in Colombo as well as the country’s North and East.
photo: Carla Lee

“The police who had come to arrest the boys in adjoining shop arrested me too” he said. He’s been detained without charge for two months and released to court order. During the detention he was severely assaulted by the police, who have warned him, releasing him,   

“You can’t escape us. We know where you are working. We will be watching you”.

He had to move his place for safety.

Ordeal was going to be renewed soon as he received a letter from unknown group, at his postal address.

“Why did you come to Colombo? Get out of your place. Or you will be punished” the letter read.

The group claimed to be “in charge of evicting traitors”. A ‘lion face in Tiger’ – ‘lion’ is symbol of the majority Sinhala and ‘tiger’ is symbol of minority Tamil- for logos and ‘NO.00’, which indicated they’ve got dozens of ‘traitors’ at least, are written in the letter. It showed 5 names of their list, who are from Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna. But Lackshman didn’t take it seriously until he received second letter from the same group in the end of 2008. This time, deadline was set on specific day.

“One day (February 2009), I came out of my place for dinner around 9 pm. Some Special Task Forces (or STF) personnel called me so I approached them. They pushed me into the vehicle and put a mask on my face.”

His screaming was not heard by anyone. He was transferred twice during the journey for more than ten hours. On second transfer, he was handed over to a group, who spoke perfect Tamil, suggesting they were Tamils -Sri Lanka is not a ‘bilingual’ country, but ‘two mono languages’ spoken country, although some speak the both-. He was severely tortured by electrical equipment, leaving his body burned all over.

“I was appealing to them for one more chance to live. They said it’s up to the higher officials. But finally they told me they are going to give me a chance.”

The abductors took Lackshman into a van and drove to dump him out at outskirt of Colombo. It was dark morning. Survived, but he should get out of Colombo within days, or “will be punished”.

The White Van, which is a symbol of Sri Lanka’s abduction, has been never stopped at a number of check points in Colombo and elsewhere in the Country.
photo: Carla Lee

During the ‘journey of abduction’, he said, none of the numerous checkpoints stopped his abductors’ vehicle. The ‘Abduction Squad’, which is apparently comprised of security forces, police and Tamil paramilitary groups, might be the only ones who can enjoy freedom of movement in Colombo or elsewhere. It is a ‘biggest operation’ in a street by “would be-Criminal Investigation Devision (or CID) officers” at times, in a “White Van” at all times.

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