Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants a probe into the disappearances of over 20,000 people in the country’s brutal civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels, his office has said in a clarification after the Sri Lankan President declared the missing persons “dead” in the first-ever admission to a UN official.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former wartime defence secretary who played a key role in ending Sri Lanka’s nearly 30-year civil war with the Tamil separatist rebels, told UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer last week that after the necessary investigations are completed steps would be taken to issue death certificates to the missing persons.
The President’s office has said Gotabaya Rajapaksa had explained to the UN official that he will have the matter investigated, but added, “however I can’t bring back the dead”.
The President told the UN official that as a result of the census carried out by the government at the end of the conflict in 2009, it had emerged that most of the missing persons had been conscripted by the LTTE, the statement said.
“Their families attest to being witnesses of their loved ones being taken by the LTTE. However, thereafter they do not have any information as to their fate. Therefore, as far as they are concerned these people are missing,” the statement quoted the Sri Lankan president as saying.
“The unfortunate truth is that these people had died during the battles. Even in the security forces there are about 4,000 personnel listed as missing. But in reality, these people had died during the fights, but their bodies had not been recovered,” it said.
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Rajapaksa told the UN official that after the conclusion of the necessary investigations, steps would be taken to issue death certificates and after that, the families would be given the necessary support to rebuild their lives.
According to the government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade separatist war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
The Tamils alleged that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war that ended in 2009 when the government forces killed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it as a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE’s control.
At the end of the civil war, the United Nations accused both sides of atrocities, especially during the conflicts final stages. International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, but the government has disputed the figures. Several mass graves containing skeletal remains have also been found, but only a handful have ever been identified.
The UN and other rights groups have pressed Colombo to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate allegations of human rights abuses – both by the military and the LTTE.
Successive Sri Lankan governments have resisted such attempts, saying it is a domestic issue and the allegations should be probed internally.