This story has first published by COLOMBO TELEGRAPH = http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/three-rehabilitated-youths-gone-missing-not-reached-homes-from-temple-trees/ – SEE PICs
SEE ADDENDUMat the end of tis essay — SAROJA DEVI changes her mind — she was mistaken. 20 May 2012
Saroja Devi of Mullaitivu last saw her son, Kerbert Morino Leon Roxy, on July 7, 2008. That day, from the Northeastern coastal town, Roxy took a boat out of Tamil Tiger-held territory. His parents, eager to see him leave, had paid for the trip — it was expensive to smuggle out able-bodied youngsters past the LTTE, which was on a constant recruitment drive for fighters.
Once earlier, Roxy had been taken away by the LTTE, and as the fighting escalated in northern Sri Lanka, his family wanted to make sure he would not be around if the Tigers came calling once again.
Two days later, on July 9, 2008, the ‘middleman’ Madhuran, who took Roxy along with a few other boys, informed their parents that he had dropped them off on the other side of Sri Lanka, in Mannar on the north-western coast.
The same day, the whole group surrendered to the Navy, as planned. Surrendering to the security forces was common practice by youth seeking to escape the Tigers. Madhuran’s news about the successful crossover was the last time Saroja Devi heard about her son.
Life had already turned into a nightmare for her — the fighting between the Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE had intensified, and her family of five was forced to move from one place to another. They finally ended up at the Ramanathan camp in Mullaitivu.
After the war, when officials began registering missing persons, she was one of the first to do so. “I would have registered the name of my son at least a 100 times,” she told The Hindu in Colombo, where she has been camping for the last 10 days in a bid to trace her son.
Once the families were allowed to go back to their homes, Saroja Devi and her family returned. She registered her son’s name yet again, with M.A. Jeyaratnam, Grama Officer, Uppumaveli, in Mullaitivu, and later with the police. She also went to all the local offices of the Army, the police, politicians and government officials in a bid to get any information about her son.
Hope came in end February 2012, in the form of a photograph in a Tamil newspaper. The Hindu’s photograph that appeared in print on October 1, 2011, of a function at Temple Trees where Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over the former LTTE combatants to their families, was published in the website of Transcurrents from where a local Tamil weekly, Sudar Oli picked it up.
“I can spot my son in that picture. I can also spot two of his friends,” said Saroja Devi. After that I have been walking around with this photo,” she said and thanked The Hindu for letting her know that her son was alive.
Saroja Devi is matter-of-fact when she speaks of her missing son; no tears, no display of emotions. Roxy, born in 1985, wanted to go abroad for studies after he completed his schooling. She says she first lost him to the LTTE, in 2007.
“He ran away from them and came back home. Then we hid him and my other children in the forests,” she said. As punishment, the LTTE took her and her husband Kerbert Marino, and made them live in a camp with minimum facilities. When the children did not come in search of them even after 10 days, the LTTE released them. “They told me,” she said, “a son who does not look after his mother, will not look after our motherland. (Thayai paarkka varaadavargal thainaattai paarthu kola maatargal.)”
After that fortunate escape, and two years later, his successful crossover to government territory as reported by Madhuran, Saroja Devi did not imagine he would go missing. “How can I lose my son twice?”
An e-mail on Roxy’s case, followed by a text message, to Brig. Dharshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, on Tuesday did not elicit a response.
A day earlier, this correspondent had met Brig. Hettiarachchi at Water’s Edge Hotel – the venue for the release of the Book, ‘Gota’s War’ – and asked him about the allegations that have received some media coverage that at least three ex-combatants had not been reunited with their families. The specific details of Roxy’s case were not available with The Hindu then.
Brig. Hettiarachchi’s denied that any boys were missing. “That can’t be. Because before the release, the families used to come and visit them and at the re-integration ceremony, the beneficiaries are handed over to their families. They are handed over to the next of kin, or the parents.”
Asked if all the families were present at the ceremony at the end-September 2011 function, he said: “Correct. They can’t say [otherwise]…It is a baseless claim because we handed over to relatives. They can’t say that whereabouts are not known.”
Right now, he said, the department is preparing a few hundred more ex-combatants for rehabilitation. They will undergo various programmes for a year. “So far more than 11,500 ex-combatants have been released. There are about 700 left with us. All of them have been sent to us on Court orders,” the Brigadier said.
Saroja Devi said neither she nor her family was invited to the Temple Trees function where her son was photographed during the re-integration ceremony.
Democratic People’s Front Leader Mano Ganesan has taken up the case of Roxy and two of his friends, Savarimutththu Anton Hudson Lorantine and Murugesu Muruganandan.
“These youth, according to the parents, were forcefully abducted by the LTTE and they managed to escape and surrendered to the security forces in Mannar in year 2008. The parents have not seen them since then…Contrary to claims of the government, family members of the three youths say that they were not invited to the ceremony nor their detainee sons were handed over to them,” he said.
He has written to the Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Chandrasiri Gajadeera, asking the government to trace the missing youth. U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia A. Butenis, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha and the former Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Kathy Klugman, were among the huge posse of diplomatic corps that attended the high-profile ceremony at Temple Trees. They were on stage handing out skills certificates to some of the youngsters.
As Saroja Devi waits with hope, the only trace of emotion comes when Mano Ganesan reassures her that she would be able to see her son soon. Her voice faltered a little before steadying once more as she bid goodbye.
II: “Former Sri Lankan Tamils tigers disappear,” by Charles Haviland in BBC online
Three Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels who took part in a rehabilitation ceremony last year may subsequently have been taken away by the authorities, a rights campaigner has said. It has emerged that parents saw photos of their children at the ceremony attended by President Rajapaksa but now know nothing of their fate.
Since 2009 more than 11,000 people have been detained for varying periods. The authorities say they were attached to the Tamil Tigers. They are, or have been held, in what are called rehabilitation camps before rejoining their families at big, official ceremonies.
But the government failed to reunite at least three young men with their families at a ceremony at the president’s office, attended by him, last September. It did not even tell their families that the men were in the camps or attending the event – the parents only learned their sons were present when they saw them in a newspaper photograph.
‘No registration process’: Human rights campaigner and former MP Mano Ganesan says that when they saw the photograph they made inquiries with police, the government and the army but got only “negative responses”. He said that there may have been similar disappearances after earlier ceremonies.
The official in charge of rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi, said earlier that all the young people were handed to their families. But he has now told the BBC that he is “looking into” these cases and asked concerned parents to visit him.
Brig Hettiarachchi acknowledged there was no registration or signing process when alleged ex-combatants rejoin their families. Interviewed by the Indian paper The Hindu on Wednesday, the mother of one of the three missing men, Saroja Devi, from Mullaitivu, said her son had once been conscripted by the Tamil Tigers but escaped rebel-held territory by boat from Mullaitivu in July 2008. She said he had surrendered to the navy but she had never seen him again until recognising him and two friends in the photograph taken at the ceremony.
Most official “handover” ceremonies have taken place in northern Sri Lanka – but the one on 30 September was at Temple Trees, office of the Sri Lankan president, in the presence of several foreign ambassadors. Some 1,800 former rebel cadres were said to be present.
The rehabilitation department told the BBC that no-one is now being held for rehabilitation for longer than a year and that there are currently about 660 alleged ex-combatants undergoing the process.
ADDENDUM: “Video douses hope of Saroja Devi” by RK Radhakrishnan in The Hindu, 18 May 2012
A picture published in The Hinduon October 1, 2011, brought hope to Saroja Devi, a resident of Alambil in Mullaitivu, who has been searching for her son who surrendered to the Sri Lankan Navy, since 2008. A video shown to her at the Office of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation on Friday doused that hope.
Her search for Kerbert Morino Leon Roxy, who should now be in his late twenties, and who, according to her, surrendered to the Sri Lankan Navy on July 9, 2008, continues. After watching the video of the ceremony at Temple Trees, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over to families ex-LTTE combatants who had undergone rehabilitation and training, repeatedly on Friday afternoon, Saroja Devi said the boy in the picture at the reintegration ceremony was not her son.
After the report of Saroja Devi searching for her son with the photo that appeared in The Hindu was published, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarrachchi and his team began the work of locating the three boys that she claimed surrendered to the Navy on July 9, 2008. They were in the middle of serious practising for the victory day celebrations slated for May 19 in Colombo.
“We have examined the video and went through the list of names. The three names are not there in the list,” he said.
To make sure that Saroja Devi does not have any doubts, he requested her to come down from Mullaitivu and see the video. The images convinced her that the boy is not her son.
Other two: Questions, however, remain about the other two — Savarimutththu Anton Hudson Lorantine of Kanagapuram, Killinochchi and Murugesu Muruganandan of Murasumottai, Paranthan — who surrendered along with him: their visages are clear and their families too are headed for Colombo, to ascertain details of their missing youths.
“One member of Hudson’s family said they were coming in soon,” said Mano Ganesan, Democratic People’s Front leader, who first took up the cause of the missing youth.
Brig. Hettiarrachchi said efforts were on to trace the boys and bring them to Colombo so that there would be no doubt in the minds of the families.
Mr. Ganesan says regardless of what the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation says there is need to trace the whereabouts of the youth. “It is fairly clear that they had surrendered. Now the State has to account for them,” he adds.
Before she left the office of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Saroja Devi asked him who would be able to help trace her son. Brig. Hettiarrachchi assured her that he would try to help her. “Aiyyo Kadavuley [O, My God],” Saroja Devi sighs.
For her, and thousands like her, missing their near and dear ones in Sri Lanka’s long-drawn out, bloody war, closure now appears a mirage.
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