Safety of 31 Tamil prisoners feared after “rescue operation” in Sri Lanka

Amid rising concern over the safety and whereabouts of 31 Tamil prisoners, the prison in Vavuniya has been temporarily shut down after heavily armed army and elite police force personnel jointly carried out a violent operation to rescue three prison guards from these prison inmates.

According to sources in Vavuniya, the army and the Special Task Force personnel have fired teargas canisters and used water cannons during their joint operation to rescue the three prison guards, who were held hostage by the Tamil prisoners, some of whom were former Tamil Tiger rebels.

‘A battle front’

“The Army and the police ordered the residents in the surrounding area to vacate their homes before launching this operation. The prison complex and the vicinity looked like a battlefront for a couple of hours,” said an eye-witness from the northern town of Vavuniya.

A Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian of the Wanni said that the relatives and next of kin of these prisoners “are seriously concerned about the safety of these 31 prisoners and frantically wanting to know their fate and whereabouts, considering the force the government has used to stage this rescue drama”.

The entire area was engulfed in teargas and smoke. The jail is now closed down and the authorities say that it would be reopened only after repairs. If the prison buildings have faced such a massive damage, you can imagine the force that the authorities have brought to bear on these Tamil prisoners,” the MP who did not wish to be identified told the JDS via phone Friday evening.

Denying information

He said that the party high command was “desperately in touch with the government ministers, officials and Colombo-based diplomatic missions to locate these prisoners and ensure their safety and security”.

“The government ministers and officials have refused to provide us with any information on the safety, welfare and whereabouts of these political prisoners, among them were a few former LTTE cadres,” he said.

The Tamil prison inmates in the Vavuniya prison launched a hunger strike on Thursday demanding that the three fellow inmates who were transferred to another prison in Sri Lanka’s south, be brought back to Vavuniya.

According to reliable reports, the hunger strike took a violent turn when Tamil prisoners took three prison officers hostage after they tried to stop their hunger strike by force.

“These Tamil political prisoners were well aware of what would befall on them if and when they held the prison officers hostage. They still went ahead and held these prisoners hostage. It clearly shows how frustrated they are for being held in remand prisons without proper trial or judicial process,” the TNA parliamentarian said.

He said over 800 Tamil political prisoners are languishing inside the prisons elsewhere in Sri Lanka merely “as LTTE suspects” for many years without any trial or proper judicial process.

Original Post | Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka | June 30 2012

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