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White Van Abductions and the People Ashed in Gas Chambers - 'SILENCE BREAKS' - Part 5


'SILENCE BREAKS' by Nadarajah Kuruparan - Part 5

White Van Abductions and the People Ashed in Gas Chambers - 'SILENCE BREAKS' - Part 5


As I was setting out to write the 5th episode yesterday (23.01.12), I happened to read an article in the Sinhalese magazine Janarala. Let me translate it:
Some vehicles with gas chamber facility meant to kill and incinerate the white van abductees, have been noticed in some parts of the country. These vehicles have a chamber designed to incinerate dead bodies. It is said that many who had been abducted in the past were killed and burnt down to ashes in these chambers. These mobile chambers have been distributed one each to the districts of Colombo, Kampaha, Kandy, Galle, Matharai, Anuradhapura, and also to the districts of the north and east provinces. Operated in utmost secrecy, these vehicles are manned with the paramilitary units who are not directly linked to the military and who have been specially trained to carry out the incineration tasks. 

As it is risky to detain the white van abductees for a long time, these vehicles are used to eliminate them after interrogation. Thus, tracks to any evidence are simply destroyed. The explanation for many of the untraceable abductions lies in these vehicles. 
After reading this account, it immediately impels me to share an experience. 
This being a serial, my intention is of course to maintain the narrative in the chronological order. However, excursus of this kind could not altogether be avoided. If we push aside the things that bob up from memory, we may lose them forever. Moreover, when a Sinhalese magazine dares to expose something, I feel I am duty-bound too to bring out what I know in that regard. So let me postpone the rest of ‘The Breakaway of the East, Karuna and Taraki’ to the next episode. 
Let me, however, not divulge the names of the persons who gave me information regarding this for reasons of their protection. The above account of Janarala reminded me a woman human rights activist, who supported a pro-government political party and was killed by the Tigers. 
When the peace talks initiated in 2002 between the state and the LTTE came to naught in 2005, the Sri Lankan army initiated its great purge through its intelligence division and the Tamil paramilitary units. 
This action was taken especially targeting the members and supporters of the LTTE. 
During the ceasefire period, a cultural program named Pongutamil (Surging Tamil) meant for public invigoration was introduced by the LTTE. Besides the general public, associations of various kinds in the North were involved in it. All associations with no exemption, including those of auto-rickshaw drivers, hairdressers, laundrymen, fishers and farmers, had to register their presence in the program. 
At that time, the Tamil younkers went overweening and unbridled. They derided and spat out at the Sri Lankan soldiers standing in guard on the streets. The enraged soldiers, who were constrained by the ceasefire, had in fact remarked, ‘Our hands are tied. But our eyes are not covered’. 
When it transpired that the peace talks would break and war was imminent, the political big shots of the LTTE closed down their offices and went to their stronghold, Vanni area. But the thousands of persons, who were identified as the Tiger activists or supporters through the Pongutamil events, got confined in Kuda Nadu (the Gulf Land). Of these, there were many who during the ceasefire had been sent to Vanni for military training. 
This was not unknown to the Sri Lankan intelligence or to the Tamil militants who had been targeted and terrorized by the Tigers’ Pistol Force during the ceasefire. They were now ready and restive for retribution, just kicking their heels for the right time. 
In fact, when war started by the end of 2005, on the order of Defense Secretary Kothapaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan intelligence had prepared a list of people likely to act against the government and the army. (It should be noted here that apart from the legitimate intelligence divisions of the Sri Lankan government, there were other intelligence units operating under the Defense Secretary and the Military Intelligence Head.) 
The list contained people who were bracketed as the LTTE members covertly operating among the civilians, its proclaimed supporters, pro-LTTE politicians and media persons, those who are behind its financial investments and those facilitating its earnings. The paramilitary units and the Tamil confederates of the state intelligence rendered their assistance in preparing this list. 
As said, there were many intelligence units operating in Sri Lanka. Whereas an abduction or killing carried out by one unit would not be known to other units, the Defense Secretary and the Military Intelligence Head who coordinated all these units would know everything. In each of these units, at least three members would be from the paramilitary. They would be Tamils - members of former liberation organizations, operating with or without the knowledge of their leaders. 
These Tamils were used as front men by the state just to incriminate other liberation organizations, if a killing got revealed. In spite of knowing that, those organizations stood by the state. (The anti-democratic disposition of the LTTE was also a forcing factor for these organizations to go into the fetters of the state.)
Though these Tamil paramilitary hands were put in the front of field operations, they would never be allowed to the backstage or the source. Once a wanted person was successfully confined in the van, these front men would be chucked out at their dwelling.  Only the military intelligence people would accompany the abductee to the hidey-hole. 
This was the modus operandi of white van abductions and killings carried out by the Sri Lankan intelligence. This is how the intelligence people operated in the North and the East and later in the South also. 
Even before the war started, the army anticipated that the Tigers would try to capture Kuda Nadu (the Gulf Land). Thus the abduction of many young men and women suspected as the members of the LTTE or its supporters began to happen. 
From the second half of 2005 to 2009, some 2000 Tamils were reported missing and found dead. They included some media persons as well. The abduction of the Tamils got augmented when the Former Commander of the Army Sarath Fonseka had taken charge of the operations in Jaffna. When he was there, the number of abductions was around 200. When his reckoned successor Chandrasiri (now Governor) was in charge, around 1800 were reported missing. 
The woman human rights activist I mentioned above had whined about these abductions to a fellow woman activist who was also a lawyer belonging to the majority. ‘The atrocities happening in the North are too numerous to mention. Kidnapping and killing of the youth, elderly, activists and former supporters of the Tigers have become day to day events. The members of the rival militant groups including the one I belong to and those left them are used by the Sri Lankan state intelligence to carry out these kidnappings. We stand over a barrel. Neither could we resist, nor endure. I feel as if my head would burst at any moment.’
She had further said about the gas chambers, particularly those in the Palali High Security Zone, that were used to erase the abductees without any trace. (Global Tamil News had already published a news item on the torture house that was operating in the Vasavilan Madhya Maha Vidyalaya with photographs.)
The listener in this case, the woman human rights activist belonging to the majority, told me about this conversation with concern. She was in fact surprised about the poignance of the Tamil woman activist who justified the politics of the leader of the pro-government political party. 
It was in Germany I think, I had the opportunity to talk to this Sinhala woman briefly. When the said party leader was there, she was also there accompanying the government representatives. Later I met her as a media person at Pampalapatti, Colombo. She appeared to me as a woman of individuality with humanism and with clarity on many issues, but the one who was at the wrong side. 
In the course of my life I have come across some persons who personally have humanistic values but represent a contrary kind of politics. Their narrow self interests make them compromise their humanism. That is an anomaly. 
That the white van abductees in Jaffna were tortured and ashed in the incinerators was told by that woman in 2007. Those were the moments when humanism was alive in that woman. 
When war started in 2005, the government and the military started organizing their intelligence activities on the basis of previous experiences. In the past, evidences could be traced in many cases of abduction and the culprits were brought to light. As abductions had to be carried out in great numbers now, the intelligence officers had many difficulties in concealing them. Therefore they resorted to burn the victims to sweep away any evidence that might be left. 
This is what the Sinhala magazine Janarala has revealed to the entire world now. 
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