Secret US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks last Friday allege that the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka is complicit in abduction, murders and child trafficking carried out by renegade Tamil paramilitaries.
One cable dated Friday, May 18 2007, from ‘Secret Section 01 of 06 Colombo 000728’, Subject: Sri Lanka: GSL Complicity in paramilitary factions’ human rights abuses, states:
‘1. (S) SUMMARY: Allegations of government complicity in crimes committed by organized paramilitary groups have mounted in the last year.
‘Paramilitaries such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-breakaway Karuna group and Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) have helped the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) to fight the LTTE, to kidnap suspected LTTE collaborators, and to give the GSL a measure of deniability.
‘The GSL, which denies any links to paramilitary groups, has recently touted its efforts to improve its human rights record, such as the re-publication of procedures on arrests and detentions and the appointment of a “One-Man Commission” to investigate reported disappearances (ref C).
‘However, these efforts so far appear aimed more at improving Sri Lanka’s image abroad and have yet to produce concrete improvements in the human rights situation.
‘Outside the capital, the incidence of human rights abuses has continued, including extrajudicial killings, abductions, child trafficking, extortion, and prostitution.
‘President Rajapaksa’s government, strapped for cash, has cut direct payments to paramilitaries initiated by former President Kumaratunga and instead turns a blind eye to extortion and kidnapping for ransom by EPDP and Karuna.
‘While many of the charges against the government have been made in public fora, a growing number of trusted Embassy contacts, often at personal risk, have described in detail the extent of the GSL’s involvement with paramilitary groups. END SUMMARY.’
The cable continues: ‘GSL Finds Paramilitaries Useful
‘2. (S) The GSL sees several advantages in allowing paramilitary groups to operate in the country.
‘Paramilitary groups in the North and East help the GSL fight the LTTE and compete with the LTTE for public support and new recruits.
‘These groups also enhance security in Colombo by kidnapping and sometimes killing those suspected of working with the LTTE.
‘Frequent abductions by paramilitaries keep critics of the GSL fearful and quiet.
‘Ultimately, the GSL’s objective is to turn Karuna and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda into pro-GSL political leaders in the East and North, respectively.
‘The government hopes this will ensure long term control over these areas even if some form of devolution is instituted.
‘3. (S) In the meantime, these paramilitary groups give the GSL a measure of deniability.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that some military commanders in Jaffna XXXXXXXXXXXX want to clamp down on paramilitaries but have orders from Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa to not interfere with the paramilitaries on the grounds that they are doing “work” that the military cannot do because of international scrutiny.
‘On XXXXXXXXXXXX confided to XXXXXXXXXXXX that the Defense Ministry had instructed him not to interfere with “military intelligence” operations (ref E).
‘COLOMBO 00000728 002 OF 006
‘4. (S) The GSL has a history of funding paramilitary groups. . . .
‘Even though EPDP and Karuna are each comprised nearly exclusively of ethnic Tamils, the crimes that they commit are almost always against other Tamils.
Karuna Group Becomes Pre-eminent Paramilitary
‘5. (S) The Karuna faction’s formal name is Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), which means “Liberation Tigers of the Tamil People” in Tamil. This name is an attempt to sap legitimacy from the LTTE by taking the “Liberation Tigers” part of their name.
‘In less than one year since Karuna returned to Sri Lanka, the TMVP has become the most powerful paramilitary organization in the country. . . .
Abductions and Killings
‘6. (S) The Karuna group is probably the most active Sri Lankan paramilitary in abductions and extrajudicial killings.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX confided to PolOff that even MPs fear that the GSL will use Karuna to assassinate them.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX echoed this anxiety to us XXXXXXXXXXXX. A number of XXXXXXXXXXXX MPs, Muslims as well as Tamils, have told us privately that they fear for their lives.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that he believed Karuna set up the assassination of Tamil MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas Day 2005 (ref G) with the help of EPDP leader Devananda.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX was also positive that Karuna cadres were employed in the killing in Colombo of popular Tamil MP Nadarajah Raviraj on November 10, 2006 (ref F).
‘7. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed that Karuna has extended his activities to Jaffna from his base in the East. XXXXXXXXXXXX has documented XXXXXXXXXXXX abduction cases in Jaffna XXXXXXXXXXXX, many of which he believes are the responsibility of the Karuna group. XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff that he was discouraged.
‘COLOMBO 00000728 003 OF 006 evidence of XXXXXXXXXXXX.
‘However, because of XXXXXXXXXXXX and limited resources, he was only able to document a sample XXXXXXXXXXXX.XXXXXXXXXXXX described one abduction in which a man suspected of having ties to the LTTE was taken and a “calling card” was left with a picture of Karuna on the front and a calendar on the back, indicating that the man’s “time had run out”.
‘8. (S) The TMVP is allowed to operate throughout the East in close proximity to SLA bases, often with clearly underage cadres guarding its camps with machine guns.
‘XXXXXXXXXXX stated that the GSL allows Karuna’s cadres to recruit children forcibly from within IDP camps in the East.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX said the average age of Karuna recruits is 14. XXXXXXXXXXXX’s allegation that Karuna recruits children from IDP camps with the tacit approval of the military was confirmed by XXXXXXXXXXXX. We have received confidential reports of the Karuna group’s recruitment and use of child soldiers from a U.S.-based NGO as well.
‘Extortion and Prostitution Rings
‘9. (S) Karuna does not have the international fund-raising network among the Tamil Diaspora that the LTTE has built over the past 25 years.
‘As a result, he has resorted to a wide range of criminal activities. XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that when the GSL brings in shipments of food and supplies to IDP camps from Colombo, Karuna’s cadres are given the opportunity to go through the shipment first.
‘They are allowed to take any food they need for themselves, as well as any supplies they believe they can sell, with only the left-overs making their way to the IDPs. . . .
‘11. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX also explained that Karuna operates prostitution rings out of the IDP camps to “take care of” GSL soldiers, stating that the women “had no choice” but to acquiesce to Karuna cadres’ demands.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX independently described how women are forced into prostitution, or to give up their children to traffickers. . . .
‘12. (S) Although the GSL has consistently denied supporting Karuna, XXXXXXXXXXXX allowed PolOff to listen to tapes of his interview with Gothabaya. The Defense Secretary was effusive in his praise for Karuna and the SIPDIS benefits the GSLXXXXXXXXXXXX
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Making Karuna Legitimate
‘13. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX The TMVP does not yet have the status of a formal political party.
‘According to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, new parties cannot register when an election is “pending” in any part of the country. Elections for local councils are long overdue in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which are now in constitutional limbo following the October 1, 2006 Supreme Court decision to de-merge the two provinces.
‘As a result, the GSL must find an existing political party for Karuna to “join”, perhaps later changing the name to TMVP, in order for Karuna to stand for elections.
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX said thatXXXXXXXXXXXX has so far resisted GSL efforts to force a shotgun marriage with Karuna, but that he may ultimately have to yield.
‘EPDP: “Political Party” and Paramilitary
‘14. (S) The EPDP, originally called the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), began as a rival to the LTTE.
‘One wing of the EPRLF founded the EPDP as a formal political party when its leader, Douglas Devananda, was elected to Parliament in 1994 and aligned with the government. . . .
‘As part of the ruling coalition, he serves as Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare.
‘Although registered as a formal political party, the EPDP remains a feared paramilitary group, wielding non-official power over parts of the Jaffna peninsula and especially the offshore islands with the tacit approval of the Sri Lanka Army.
Extra-Judicial Killings with the Military’s Support
‘15. (S) Working in concert with SLA soldiers stationed in the Jaffna peninsula, the EPDP is able to conduct extortion, abductions, extra-judicial killings and other criminal acts without fear of consequences, according to numerous sources. . .
‘At an agreed time, all of the soldiers in the designated area take a five to ten minute “break” at once (although the normal practice is to take breaks in shifts).
‘At that point, armed and masked gunmen, often riding on motorcycles, race down the street and assassinate the intended victim.
‘Shortly after the killing, the soldiers’ break over, they return to their posts to deal with the aftermath.
‘While police investigations are common, they almost never lead to arrests.
‘XXXXXXXXXXX also told us of a XXXXXXXXXXXX doctor XXXXXXXXXXXX who performs forced abortions, often under the guise of a regular check-up, on Tamil women suspected of being aligned with the LTTE.’
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‘16. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX Child Trafficking
‘17. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX said he believes that EPDP is operating child trafficking rings in Jaffna with a base on Delft island, which the EPDP “owns.”
‘XXXXXXXXXXXX explained that because of the large number of widows in Jaffna, men associated with the EPDP, often from neighboring villages, are used to seduce women with children, especially girls, with the promise of economic protection.
‘After establishing a relationship, the men then take the children, sometimes by force and sometimes with the promise that they will be provided a better life.
‘The children are sold into slavery, usually boys to work camps and girls to prostitution rings, through EPDP’s networks in India and Malaysia. . . .’
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‘20. (S) COMMENT: While none of the evidence put forward by our contacts constitutes a smoking gun, the preponderance of these statements (and the extent to which they independently corroborate each other) points to a pattern of GSL complicity with paramilitary groups on multiple levels.
‘It appears that this involvement goes beyond merely turning a blind eye to these organizations’ less savory activities.
‘At worst, these accounts suggest that top leaders of its security establishment may be providing direction to these paramilitaries.
‘While it is perhaps understandable that the GSL wants to use every possible means in its war against LTTE terror, we must continue to stress to the Government the importance of reining in the paramilitaries and establishing internationally accepted norms for arresting, investigating, prosecuting and, if appropriate, punishing those suspected of cooperating with the LTTE.’