White vans and related extra judicial abductions played a vital role in unleashing both psychological and physical terror, as part of this strategy. And the powers that be, well aware of its operational and tactical utilities, are not prepared to give up this time tested instrument, even though the war ended in May 2009. The white van is, therefore, an institution that has outlived its time and designated purpose.
Today, white vans -- privately or State-arm operated (?) -- have turned this country into a Kafkaesque nightmare for its own citizens. Fifty-six Sri Lankans have been abducted during the first three months of this year, according to human rights activists. (However, we cannot indepedently verify that figure.) That figure represents a cross-section of society: Dissident political activists, Tamil youth, underworld gangsters, businessmen (see box story).
Last week, the public, was assailed with news of the abduction of Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle, two activists of the splinter group of the JVP, now known as the Frontline Socialist Party. The story of their alleged abduction is dealt in detail on page 6.
Could Gunaratnam and Attygalle have disappeared forever – had not Gunaratnam held Australian citizenship, which prompted frantic calls from the Australian foreign ministry to its Sri Lankan counterpart, and triggered a media frenzy in the international press? While a collective of political parties and civil society organizations waged an active campaign to secure the release of the two activists, it was the intervention by the Australian diplomatic mission and foreign ministry in Canberra that, primarily, may have saved the lives of the two activists. Civil society and political party representatives, who spoke at a media conference held later remarked that the best guarantee against being picked up by a white van in post-war Sri Lanka ‘is a dual citizenship, preferably from a rich European country’. Such remarks, at least at face value perusal, may hold a grain of truth. Two other political activists, Lalith Kumar and Kugan Muruganathan, abducted from Jaffna in December last year, are still unaccounted for, their party claims. Dimuthu Attygalle revealed to media that her captors told her that the two men were also kept in detention, and Lalith would soon be released.
In spite of apparent indications of its complicity in the recent twin abductions and a series of past abductions, the Sri Lankan government continues to plead innocence. In a statement on the abduction of Gunaratnam and Attygalle, the External Affairs Ministry stated: “Whenever a person chooses to withdraw from the community for personal reasons, or with the deliberate intention of causing embarrassment to the government, it is grossly unfair to arrive at the conclusion that there has been an abduction and to point a finger at the State.”
The government's version of the events – if at all, by chance, true – would be an indication of how skewed a tale could get, against Authority.
The problem is -- statements do not necessarily give credence to what the government holds. In the absence of facts to the contrary, many people are prepared to believe the face value apparent truth about the ‘whodunnit’: That it was the State and its agencies that did it. Can the government produce hard evidence in its behalf?
White vans, private white-vans, etc., etc...
Sagara Senaratna, the brother-in-law of the ruling party politician Jeevan Kumaratunga was abducted by a white van in Kotte and it was only after a telephone call to the abductors by a higher-up in Defence authority he was dumped by the road side in Ja Ela on March 26. This it is contended by others, could have been a private-gang abduction for ransom.
Two Muslim men were abducted in a white van from Aduruppu Veediya on March 20.
Malu Priyantha, a resident of Borella and a suspected drug smuggler was abducted by the men who arrived in a white van in Wanathamulla on March 11.
Ravindra Udayashantha, the chairman of the Kolonnawa Urban Council escaped an alleged abduction attempt on March 10. His supporters rounded up the men who arrived in a white van. They included an army captain, two lieutenants and a corporal.
A 43 year old fisherman was abducted from Modara by a group which arrived in a white van on March 10.
Nawasuriya Arachchilage Premaratna was abducted from his residence in Mattakkuliya by men who arrived in a grey coloured van on March 9.
Kosala Ekanayake, son of the former provincial councilor Nanda Ekanayake was abducted from his residence in Mawathagama and was later released after being warned not to criticize the government on February 27.
Five ex-LTTE cadres were abducted in Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts during the period of February 27-March 3.
Muttaiyah Subramanium, an ex-LTTE cadre was abducted on February 27 in Kilinochchi by two men who said he was taken in for questioning.
Nethiyas Chandrapala alias Kudu Mervin, an underworld drug baron, was abducted in the vicinity of Hulftsdorp on February 12. A burnt corpse found in Thimbirigasyaya on the following day was believed to be of Mervin’s.
Ramaswamy Prabhakaran, a former torture victim and a petitioner of a fundamental rights petition, was abducted from his residence by a group of men who arrived in a white van in Wellawatta on February 11. Later the abductors demanded Rs100 million for his release.
Dinesh Fernando (35) was abducted in a white van in Dehiwala on February 9.
Janaka Prasad, brother of the Kolonnawa Urban Council Chairman Ravindra Udaya Shantha, was abducted by men who arrived in a white van on February 2. Udaya Shantha says he believes that his brother has now been killed.
Muttusamy Anandarasa, a Tamil, went missing on February 2 and his body was recovered from a toilet pit in Jaffna.
L. Darmadasa, a resident in Hambantota went missing in the third week of January and his body was later found near the Weerawila Air Force camp
Maligawatta Donald, a confidante of Minister Mervyn Silva was abducted from Panadura in a white van on January 8 and was later released after the intervention of Minister Silva.
Buddhika Dinesh, a resident of Thotalaga was abducted by a group of men who arrived in a white van. His body was later found in the Kelani river on January 3.