Screen grab from BBC video

In March after making a feature on enforced disappearances for the BBC, I made a further radio broadcast for our From Our Own Correspondent programme, later expanded for Groundviews, saying that I hoped Sri Lanka’s top leaders would be able to give answers about the fate of recent victims of enforced disappearance in Colombo and other cities.

The Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has dashed any such hopes in my BBC interview with him broadcast earlier this week.

[audio:http://groundviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/gota-on-disappearances-part-1.mp3|titles=gota on disappearances part 1]

He shed no new light on what has happened to Ramasamy Prabagaran, Nethiyas Chandrapala, Lalith Weeraraj, Kugan Muruganathan, Upali Mendis, Stephen Suthararaj or other unfortunate victims.  Instead he suggested lists of victims were inflated or that the disappeared were criminals or the victims of kidnapping for ransom.  As for any suspicion that the state was in some cases responsible, he said the government had no interest in doing such things.

“No, that is wrong actually – you are taking this from some website,” was his initial response when I mentioned missing people.  [Editors note: In an interview published in the Sunday Leader newspaper on 27 May 2012, Gotabaya Rajapaksa mentioned Groundviews as the site which published figures on disappearances] I cited the case of Ramasamy Prabagaran, whose wife I interviewed after she saw him dragged away screaming by occupants of a white van, two days before he was due to testify that the police had severely tortured him in detaining him from 2009 to 2011.

To this he said that of about 59 cases since October, which he said a diplomat had mentioned to him, 18 were “completely false”.  Others had been solved.  “It can happen – people can abduct and ask for money.”  There were only eight cases that could not be accounted for, he said.

“But I want to tell you this,” he added.   “There are a lot of people that commit crimes here…  There are certain people who are in the underworld, who are responsible for a lot of crime and who are drug dealers who do various things here – and they escape – it’s very easy to go to India through various means.  [They] escape to India, south India.”

This echoed other government statements to the effect that some missing people – including the cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda – had somehow “disappeared” of their own choice.

My response to Mr Rajapaksa was that many families were mourning for their missing loved ones and there was no indication that they had gone abroad.  He said that in one recent case a woman had reported her son abducted but he had then turned up in Canada and committed a crime.  I said there were, nonetheless, recent very real cases in Colombo.  He said these were “wrong allegations”.  I said they were not wrong as I had met close family members, upon which he said, humorously, that I shouldn’t get angry as he was usually the one that did that.

He continued by implying that the whole affair was concocted to damage the image of Sri Lanka (or its government):

“I am the Secretary Defence.  I have  investigated this.  Don’t take the word from these people.  Take the word from me…  These are wrong allegations.

“I have investigated these things.  These are not correct…  These are lies to give a wrong picture of Sri Lanka… a wrong image of Sri Lanka by the rump of the LTTE who is remaining outside and trying to damage the image of Sri Lanka.”

I asked next about the case of Sagara Senaratne, a former local councillor who was taken away in a mysterious white van in March and said that he was aware of another man being assaulted in the back of the same vehicle.

[audio:http://groundviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/gota-on-disappearances-part-2.mp3|titles=gota on disappearances part 2]

Mr Senaratne happened to be the brother-in-law of a government minister, Jeevan Kumaratunga.  He told the pro-government newspaper ‘Divaina’ that he was abruptly freed after his driver contacted Mr Kumaratunga who contacted the Defence Secretary and the President.

He was grateful to them for saving his life, he said.  But, I said to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, it seemed to some that the government was involved in such abductions.

“No we are not committing the abductions.  Why should we abduct a minister’s relation or someone?” he said.  There were in fact several cases where he had helped track down and free victims of kidnapping for ransom.

As for Ramasamy Prabagaran, it was not necessary to “harass” such a person given that the government had freed many LTTE suspects or others arrested for various crimes since the end of the war.  He said 11,000 surrenderees had been put through the rehabilitation process; and that 4,000 other long-term detainees, kept in high-security facilities like Boossa, had been reduced in number to 234.  They, too, had been rehabilitated and released.

“People don’t talk about the action that we have taken for these detainees,” Mr Rajapaksa said.  “It’s very unfortunate to take isolated cases.”

In the same breath, then, the Defence Secretary mentioned a recent abduction case in Colombo and the separate issue of thousands of LTTE suspects.

Ultimately, he said, it was up to the police to look into cases of disappearance.  As there has been almost no police progress in dozens of disappearance cases, this gives no comfort to the families still wondering where their loved ones are.

Watch a video featuring excerpts of the interview with the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaka on the BBC website.

  • Against Lies and Deceit

    The interview by Charles Haviland was vintage Gotabhaya Rajapaksa: threatening, arrogant and dismissive. And unintelligent. Anyone with half a brain could have seen and heard an (stupid)Nixonian response to all allegations. It went, “Deny, deny, deny” and, as in the case of Richard Milhous Nixon’s efforts, it will, in the end prove futile.

    To seek to analyse anything this man says for public consumption is a waste of time. All one needs do is to watch and listen to him to gauge a totally ruthless individual who seems to head up the Military Branch of the Rajapaksa Hegemony which has at least two other branches, the one that talks out of every side of its mouth while accumulating cash and the other that simply collects commissions!

    • andre

      this is not the first BBC interview in which he behaved himself in the unique manner. However, his responses sounded not that aggressive as had been the case in the previous ones.

  • Natasha

    Charles Haviland has failed to ask critical questions such as how over 140,000 Tamils are still unaccounted for and how he has wrote on BBC that Tamils want provincial devolution which is absolutely false! Tamils actually want self-rule based on economical/political power, etc. That is what the Tamils fought for militarily and that is what Tamils democratically voiced through the Vadukottai Resolution.

    Stop being a biased journalist and please ask factual questions such as why no political solution has been given to Tamils who faced genocide in May 2009, and why colonization of Tamil areas are taking place, and why Sinhala military are occupying Tamil areas. Go and read Human Rights Watch reports or the International Crisis Group report on sexual abuse against Tamil women by the Srilankan army.

    Tamils are still killed and BBC Haviland cannot even be a true journalist to help the oppressed Tamils!!!!

    • wijayapala

      Dear Natasha

      Tamils actually want self-rule based on economical/political power, etc. That is what the Tamils fought for militarily

      Did you personally fight militarily for Tamil self-rule?

    • Ravana

      An attempt at subverting an important piece of journalism by raising an ideologically racist flag yet again. This time even the Secretary of Defence, Sri Lanka appears snow white in comparison to the commentator.

      The most dangerous issue for the future of Maha Bharat is Tamil-Dravidianist racism. It may potentially even envelope Capital cities of many western and South American countries (as collateral damage). An important first step in suppressing this evil force is to kill the Sinhala racist Nationalism. I hope India realises this and counsels the village thugs accordingly.

    • “That is what the Tamils fought for militarily and that is what Tamils democratically voiced through the Vadukottai Resolution.”

      And that is why you will never get it. Forget self-rule, federalism, autonomy or any other such word, for a few generations. Hope like hell that you get 13A fully implemented. Tamils as individuals are now equal to Sinhalese under the law. They will have to be satisfied with that. You don’t lose a war in which you killed thousands upon thousands of Sri Lankans and then say, “Sha, that was a good fight, now give us what we were asking for”. All you’ll get as an answer is a big fat fuck off.

      • myil selvan

        “And that is why you will never get it. Forget self-rule, federalism, autonomy or any other such word, for a few generations. Hope like hell that you get 13A fully implemented.”

        And these words coming from a half-tamil? What about the Tamils who helped the Sinhalese like Pon.Ramanathan and the independence struggle initiated by the Jaffna Youth Congress and people like Lakshman Kadirgama? Shouldn’t Tamils have got something for that help? At the end good ole Sinhala Buddhist racism is to blame. No Sri Lankan state before the good ole Brits!

        “Tamils as individuals are now equal to Sinhalese under the law. They will have to be satisfied with that”

        Really? Then why is it that Tamils are not allowed to go to certain areas in the Northeast but only Sinhalese are? Indi Samarajiva personally found out? Why Sinhalese fishermen being given Thamil fishermen’s fishing areas,boat landing permits, etc?

        “You don’t lose a war in which you killed thousands upon thousands of Sri Lankans and then say, “Sha, that was a good fight, now give us what we were asking for”.

        Did the war really end? The Northeast sure doesn’t look like it! Since you decided to go with the “You don’t get….” talk, let me also say something along those lines. The Sinhalese(no stereotype intended and you are not Sinhalese) don’t get to start killing thousands upon thousands of Thamil people and just walk away for lollipops. Sorry that’s not how humanity works, repercussions follow, sadly. Even Newton’s law concurs.

        “All you’ll get as an answer is a big fat fuck off.”

        How did you manage to get past the groundviews’ censor with that scrumptious penultimate word?

      • “And these words coming from a half-tamil?”

        Discomfiting isn’t it, when politics don’t follow ethnicity?

        “What about the Tamils who helped the Sinhalese like Pon.Ramanathan and the independence struggle initiated by the Jaffna Youth Congress and people like Lakshman Kadirgama? Shouldn’t Tamils have got something for that help?”

        Yes, they should have. They should have got an equal place in SL. Whether that equality should have been just on an individual level, or on a communal level is the question. The Tamils believed that individual equality (and even that was not accorded) was insufficient. Many still believe that to be true. I believe the war changed things and took away that second option, as wars always will when it comes to the defeated. Now, the Tamils will not be given self-rule within a geographical boundary. The ultimate goal is politics free of ethnic identity. Without the war and state victory, the path to that goal would have been different, and come through eventual mutual trust. Now, the path will be different; one set out by the Sinhalese, and dictated by them, with the Tamils given little choice. Wars change everything.

        “Really? Then why is it that Tamils are not allowed to go to certain areas in the Northeast but only Sinhalese are? Indi Samarajiva personally found out? Why Sinhalese fishermen being given Thamil fishermen’s fishing areas,boat landing permits, etc?”

        If these things are happening, they must be challenged and opposed. When Gotabhaya Rajapakse attempted to move all non-resident Tamils out of Colombo, it was challenged in court and prevented.

        “Did the war really end? The Northeast sure doesn’t look like it!”

        Have you ever been to the NE? I have been there before the war, during the war, and after the war, and there is a huge difference. You can drive or ride buses without worrying about dying. You can send your kids to school without worrying that they will be conscripted and sent off to be killed. Those are big differences. Have you been to Kilinochchi recently? It’s a bustling hive of business, unlike it was during the war. So which aspect of the NE do you feel is still at war?

        “The Sinhalese(no stereotype intended and you are not Sinhalese) don’t get to start killing thousands upon thousands of Thamil people and just walk away for lollipops. Sorry that’s not how humanity works, repercussions follow, sadly. Even Newton’s law concurs.”

        I’m afraid they will walk away as every victor has walked away from every just war. The Tigers were offered everything that it was possible to concede, and they bit the hand that offered it. The Tigers dragged this country back to war, kicking and screaming. And guys like you who now talk about killing did nothing to prevent the coming bloodshed. We didn’t ask for this war, the Tigers did. We just finished it.

        “How did you manage to get past the groundviews’ censor with that scrumptious penultimate word?”

        Maybe even GV occasionally tires of the mealy-mouthed apologists of terror and separatism.

      • Mohan

        Since 1956, the Majority(and the govt) planned and had pogrom against the minority people. LTTE is just the bi-product of 1977 communal Riot. Now, Muslims and European decendents are on the Target. Has the Communal War Finished??

      • Militant separatism was a byproduct of the pogroms, but the Tigers chose terrorism as a strategy. By 1987, language parity and provincial councils had been agreed on. There was no reason to continue a war. So after ’87, the war was the Tigers’ doing. You can’t look at 30 years of war as a single incident.

      • Mohan

        I do agree with you, on that after 1987 war with Indian(with the help of Sri Lankan govt) and with Sri Lankan Govt. This war is nothing but just revenge with each other with ‘killings’ in heart. The major reasons are Religions and Foreigners. Even now, those two anti-social elements feeding hatredness with their Myths and Threatens.

      • Religion and foreigners? What do you mean? SL support for the Tigers against the IPKF only came after Premadasa became President. The Tigers had started fighting the Indians long before that. I don’t think it was revenge either. The Tigers wanted a separate state, and wouldn’t accept anything less.

      • Mohan

        Dear David Blacker, ReligionS and Foreigners. I am coming from Ancient Times. If you look very closely; you will see the Foreign Religions and Foreigners are in our Indigenous Land and fighting among themselves. I don’t want to go in more details. The Truth may hurt; unnecessarily.

      • Yeah, Mohan. Better to be a bigot in private 😉

    • Sadun

      Dear Natasha,

      you said “Tamils are still killed ”

      one such killing was solved today;

      “Two arrested over Trinco murder

      Posted by admin on June 6, 2012

      Two people were arrested today over the murder of Easwarathasan Ketheeswaran, a man who was deported from Britain in 2010 and was found killed in Trincomalee last April.

      According to the police the man was killed as part of a contract given by his wife who was having an illicit affair with another man.

      The police said that the main suspect who was arrested is a pilot and he had met the wife of the victim in London.

      The wife had had an affair with the suspect and gave a £1750 contract to kill her husband, who was also a cricketer.

      A warrant is to be issued via INTERPOL to arrest the wife, the police media unit said today.

      The police said that both suspects who were arrested today were residing in Colombo.

      Meanwhile the police also said that the arrest had dismissed allegation that the security forces were involved in the murder.

      The police said that some Tamil Diaspora groups had earlier accused the military over the murder without any evidence. (Colombo Gazette)

      http://colombogazette.com/two-arrested-over-trinco-murder/

      • Sadun

        She might be among the diaspora protesting against the President MR today at Commonwealth Luncheon.

    • gemunu

      This refers to Nartasha’s comment. “colonization of Tamil areas are taking place” What does she mean by Tamil Areas??? Sri Lanka is one country and one Island and every citizen has the right to live anywhere within Sri Lanka, According to her argument how many Tamils has colonized Sinhala areas???? For example Wellawatte, Colombo 6???? and the up country???

      • Mohan

        It is good to understand the English words “Colonisation(with the help of Armed Forces)” and “Migration” or even simply “Displaced(Chased out) People living in the Rented Houses”. Unless, you open your own eyes, you will never see the Truth.

  • georgethebushpig

    Dear Mr. Haviland,

    Thank you for posting excerpts from your interview with the Def/Sec (pun intended). It would be great if you could post the whole interview as there is additional information in the 2nd clip that did not make it into the BBC broadcast. It’s incredible that he actually begins to admit to assisting in the freeing of some abductees rather than stating that he has brought the abductors to justice.

    A few questions: 1) did you ask him what exactly did he mean when he said that “before the war we were all Sinhalese”; 2) if he has investigated the 59 cases of abductions why aren’t the results of the investigations made public; and 3) if these are kidnappings for money why on earth would anyone in their right mind pick a journalist (“your bus fare or your life”?).

    Best regards

    • Ravana

      George,
      I think that he was answering a question about members of the security forces. He is trying to say that there are more Tamil officers in the security forces now.

      I must say that as much as I dislike GR for the way he had behaved in 2010, this was a good presentation by the Defence Secretary. By this I don’t mean that he was a great speaker or superb diplomat (far from it). But on this occasion he has represented his country as best as he could.
      Charles Haviland also tried his best but could not provoke him. Lee Kwan Yu would be proud! (although Lee’s language and mannerisms would have been more sophisticated; nevertheless, the likes of GR and LKY cannot fool everyone; GR should have addressed the issue of Messrs. Praphagaran and Ekneligoda directly, but did not because his Government-perhaps himself- is culpable; Sri Lanka will need to come cleans about these matters and thousands of others).

  • Mohan

    Visitors are coming to SriLanka with no Problem. Only UN people are not allowed to come Sri Lanka. How Funny is that!

    • Silva

      “No problem” – How about people disappearance, there are a number of cases.

  • Budha

    How long CAN he DENY all allegations.

    There will be someone to bell the CAT !

  • Sam Alexander

    It is so comical the way Gota tries to fool Charles by stating “You got this news on abductions from the websites?” and when charles comes up with a real life example and mentions he could list many more examples, Gota’s face changes and twists in many directions making obvious that he is lying and hoping that question ends there. Not only that his suggestion that the under ground criminals could be responsible for these abductions and they could easily escape to India, south India are nothing but lies because they were lots of evidence that the abductiors were assisted by the officials at the military check points.

    Gota, with his attitude and his inability to hide his true color, is the best evidence that the Tamils can show to the world why Tamils cannot expect a just solution within united Sri Lanka from the GOSL.

  • And

    This is not the first time, GR denies to discuss the crucial matters related to the war. However, he seems to be not knowing the gravity of the problems yet as they really are – surely, arrogance can only lead the nation to unexpected ends.

    I happended to read some comments made by him to sunday leader recently on the matter about SF release – there he categorically denied to give any responses.- just saying I dont know… So the average of the country would raise the question, if country^s defence secretary is not informed about the reasons regarding to the release of a prisoner… this explains everything about the judiciary system currently prevaiing in the country. As majority of the nation is well aware, GR is not patient enough to listen to any questions in terms of the war. As this is clear to the GOSL, I wonder why the regime is not able to provide him with a spokesman/woman. In comparable interviews, Germans, French and Arabs usually appoint well educated interpreters not reacting arbitorily.

  • Mohamed Firdows

    I think we have to avoid any sort of discourse that divide the Sri Lankan communities specially from the government side since they are the caretakers of the entire citizens of Sri Lanka.

    In any given territory in multi-ethnic country like Sri Lanka the majority of the people may consist from one or more of ethnic community or communities. In that respect they are automatically getting the democratic right to elect, as they are the majority, any citizen to several local and national parliaments. This means in democratic form the area is dominated by the certain part of the community.

    In Sri Lanka substantial portion of the country is dominated by the votes of Sinhalese people who happened to be Buddhist and Christian and few provinces were dominated by votes of minority communities who happen to be Hindus and or Muslims through their democratic voting powers.

    In my opinion in a democratic country saying areas or provinces that are pre-dominated by set of communities based on their residency and voting right is the reality on the ground and there cannot be anything wrong in stating that the area is dominated by such and such communities who happen to be Buddhist, Christian, Muslims, Hindus or Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims etc… This is the acceptance of pluralistic nature of the country and let every community to live with its own, unique tradition and respect each community by accepting them as they. This in no way will be equal to separation of countries in to many rather accepting the reality and finding a way to love together.

    Let’s hope and find a way to live side by side by respecting and accepting each other with their unique rituals and traditions including their right to live as a community.