Tamil women hold up photographs of their missing sons during a protest against the Sri Lankan government in Colombo yesterday.
Sri Lankan police blocked hundreds of minority Tamils from attending a rally in the capital yesterday to protest extrajudicial killings and the disappearances of their loved ones, an activist said.
Buses packed with family members were prevented from leaving the northern town of Vavuniya to make a 260km (162-mile) journey to Colombo for the rally in the morning yesterday, activist and politician Mano Ganeshan said.
“The protest was called off because nearly 1,000 people were not allowed to proceed from Vavuniya,” Ganeshan said. “Armed police and army intimidated bus drivers and threatened them with dire consequences if they moved.”
Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya denied intimidation, but said police had “advised” bus operators against leaving in the interest of maintaining peace and calm in the area.
“The police stopped an organised movement of several buses in view of several complaints of stoning of buses in the area,” Wanigasooriya said. “If these buses also proceeded, they could have been attacked and there could have been clashes.”
Minority Tamils say thousands are still missing nearly four years after government forces successfully crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 and declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed in the majority Sinhalese nation.
The latest confrontation between Tamils and the authorities came as Sri Lanka faces censure at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where the US is due to move a resolution pressing for a war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.
Rights groups have said that up to 40,000 were killed in the final months of fighting in Sri Lanka while Colombo maintains that not a single civilian was killed by security forces.
The government has also denied allegations of abductions and extra judicial killings despite a British TV documentary detailing what it called credible evidence of military excesses.
The United States embassy in Colombo condemned the police for blocking hundreds of Tamils from attending a protest rally in Colombo.
In a statement headlined: “US alarmed by peaceful protesters’ detention”, the US embassy said “all Sri Lankans should enjoy the same rights and live in dignity”.
It noted a “lack of progress” in ensuring basic human rights in Sri Lanka despite a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution demanding an improvement.
“Since last year’s UNHRC resolution, the US has grown increasingly concerned by the lack of progress on these issues, as well as backsliding on other important areas of fundamental democratic rights,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, a previously unknown group calling itself the “Dead and Missing Persons Parents Front” said it petitioned the UN to investigate war crimes by the defeated Tigers.