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Sri Lankan court orders war-missing kin held

March 14, 2014

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan court on Friday ordered the detention and questioning of a woman who has been searching for a 15-year-old son who is among the country’s war missing, a rights activist said. Her 13-year-old daughter was referred to child care officials.

Human rights activists say the arrest of Balendran Jeyakumari and her daughter Vithushaini on Thursday is part of the government’s continuing efforts to intimidate families of the country’s civil war-missing into silence.

Jeyakumari was ordered to be detained for 16 days under the country’s tough anti-terrorism law and her daughter was kept in the care of probation officials, according to a rights activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing military reprisals.

The two were arrested in the northern Kilinochchi district Thursday night after hundreds of military and police held them house-bound for hours.

Jeyakumari had been vocal in calling for the release of her 15-year-old son, a child recruit of the Tamil Tiger rebels whom she had handed to the military as fighting ended in 2009. Both the mother and daughter have been in the forefront of protests demanding details of war missing and were prominently featured in media photographs and videos including when British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the country last year.

Jeyakumari has a strong case against the government because it published a photograph of her son in a government book depicting rehabilitation of rebel fighters, a proof that he was in fact in government custody. However, authorities won’t give details of him. His mother is also a leader in mobilizing families of missing persons in her neighborhood, the activist said.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Jeyakumari was arrested for harboring a criminal who he says was hiding at her home and shot at officers during a raid. He claimed Vithushaini was not arrested but taken in “for her own protection.”

Tamil National Alliance the major political party representing ethnic Tamils had earlier expressed fear for their safety because officials had not brought them to court soon enough.

The rights activist said several family members of missing persons in Sri Lanka’s former war zone have been silenced after being arrested under fabricated charges.

The U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, ending a visit to Sri Lanka last August, said people who had spoken with her had been visited by the military and police and were questioned. She said the U.N. took such reprisals as an “extremely serious matter.”

Thursday’s arrests came as the U.N. Human Rights Council reviews Sri Lanka’s human rights, including the issue of missing persons and its failure to investigate war crimes allegations against both government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Ethnic Tamil civilians from the country’s former northern war zone complain the whereabouts of many of their relatives personally handed over to the military heeding a call to surrender and those arrested on suspicion are not known nearly five years since the war’s end.

The United States has sponsored a third resolution on Sri Lanka at the rights council calling for an international probe on alleged war crimes if the island nation fails to conduct one of its own.

Update hourly