VI. Accounts of Karuna Group: Abductions and Forced Recruitment
Below are several accounts provided to Human Rights Watch from parents and witnesses of abductions attributed to the Karuna group in 2006. Certain specific information concerning these cases, such as names, places, and dates, has been removed due to security concerns.
In May 2006 Karuna forces abducted a boy and a young man from a village in Batticaloa district. Both were subsequently seen by their families in the custody of the Karuna group.
The mother of the young man told Human Rights Watch that her son might have been targeted because the LTTE had abducted another of her sons in 2001. She explained how the May 2006 abduction took place:
According to the mother, she begged the Karuna group members not to take her son. You gave a son to the LTTE, so you have to give a son to us, she said one of the men replied.
The family reported the abduction at the police station in Valaichchenai. A police officer opened a file and took a few notes, the mother said. He asked a few questions and provided the family with the complaint number. One month later, the family received the police report, which was inspected by Human Rights Watch. According to the family, however, the police have done nothing since.
After the abduction, the family went three or four times to the TMVP office in Karapola in the Welikanda area. On the final visit, officials in the office agreed to set up a meeting in two weeks for the parents to see their son.
About two weeks later, the parents were allowed to see their son in what the mother called a special house where parents can meet their abducted children. She explained,
The family saw their son two more times after that when he came home for a visit together with the Karuna group members who had abducted him. They were all armed and wearing Sri Lankan army uniforms, the mother said. Her son seemed changed:
Human Rights Watch also interviewed the mother of the boy who was abducted from the same village that day, although she did not witness the abduction. It was night around 9 p.m., she said. I was home, I didnt hear anything. Then I heard noise and people crying.83
The mother said she also reported the case to the Valaichchenai police, where the police opened a file but did not provide the complaint number. The police didnt ask any questions, didnt ask for a description of my son or for a photo, she said.
The boys mother went with other families of abducted boys and young men from the area to the TMVP office in Karopola, where she saw her abducted son. The office is within eyesight of an army base and police station, she said.
After that, her son visited her at home on two occasions. He wore plain clothes but was armed both times, she said. He had changed, he was not the same, she explained. He said he was supporting Karuna now. But he told me that he would come home if he could.
In June Karuna forces abducted eight boys and young men from a village in the Batticaloa district. Human Rights Watch interviewed four of the families with a son abducted that day. They gave consistent testimony about the abductions and the parents efforts to get their children back, including visits to Karuna camps. According to three of the families, Sri Lankan army soldiers had come to the village on the morning of the abductions, gathering and photographing seven boys and young men, four of whom were later abducted by the Karuna group. Whether the Sri Lankan military was directly cooperating with the Karuna group by identifying potential abductees or was conducting regular operations to identify LTTE members or supporters remains unclear.
The mother of one of the abducted young men explained how Sri Lankan army soldiers came to the village around 10 a.m., gathered a group of boys and young men in a nearby field, and took their photographs:
According to the young mans father, Karuna forces arrived in the village around 11 p.m. that night. They were wearing Sri Lankan army uniforms and had black masks. They spoke Tamil and he knew they belonged to the Karuna group because he later visited his abducted son in a Karuna camp. He explained,
The parents of the abducted boys and young men made several trips to visit their sons in Karuna camps in the Welikanda area, the mother and father said. To get there they took a bus to the Sewanpitiya junction with the main A11 road, where there is a checkpoint with army and police. The visiting parents had to give their names to the soldiers posted there, who informed the Karuna group that the parents were on their way. Then they took trishaws (motorcycle taxis) for two or three miles to the Karuna camp. Karuna forces speaking Tamil and wearing green Sri Lanka army uniforms were in the area, they said.
According to the mother, she saw her son on the third trip. He was at a different camp from the seven other boys and young men with whom he had been abducted. We informed the guards at the gate and we waited an hour at the entrance, but inside the camp, in a place near the jungle, she said. My son was wearing a Sri Lankan army uniform and he had a weapon. He cried when he saw me.
Two days after the abduction, the father went to the Eravur police station to report the case. The police opened a file, he said, but they refused to provide a complaint number. When Karunas capture your children, you come here to complain, but when the LTTE capture them, you never come, the father said a police officer remarked.
The mother of a boy abducted that day, interviewed separately, gave a similar account of the days events, from the visit of the Sri Lankan army to the Karuna abductions that night:
Shortly thereafter, the families of the abducted boys and young men went to the Eravur police station, the mother said. She was not present in the police station, but her husband explained to her what took place:
The mother was among the group of parents who subsequently visited their sons in the Karuna camps. I went there and I saw my son three times, she said. He was armed and was wearing a Sri Lankan army uniform.
According to the mother, the first time she saw her son was in the Karopola camp near Welikanda. To get there, the parents took a bus to a road junction near Welikanda but she did not remember the name. A Sri Lankan army checkpoint is at the junction she said, and the leader of the families group gave the soldiers the names of the boys and young men with whom they wanted to visit. The army let the parents pass and they took trishaws to the camp. For the second visit, this mothers son was at what she called the Theevuchenai camp, near Welikanda.
He was very sad when I saw him, the mother said. He had lost weight. He told her that he receives a monthly salary that he will send home. The family received two postal orders from their son worth 5,000 rupees (US$46).
The father of another young man abducted that day also corroborated the testimony of the other families, and provided additional details about visits to the Karuna camp.
Between 25 and 30 men from the Karuna group in Sri Lankan army uniforms surrounded the area where his family lives around 10 p.m., he said. They were not masked but were wearing black bandanas, and they were armed with rifles, which the father identified as either T 56 or AK 47 assault rifles. One or two of the men had submachine guns, he said. All of them spoke Tamil.87
The men rounded up eight boys and young men and took them towards the main road. The father followed them to the road, where one of the Karuna group members told him that the boys were under suspicion of helping the LTTE and therefore under investigation. They would be returned soon, he said. They walked away with the eight boys.
Shortly after the abduction, the father reported the crime at the police station in nearby Eravur. The police took notes and opened a file, the father said, but they refused to provide the family with the complaint number.
Six weeks later, the family heard a rumor that their abducted son was in a Karuna camp in Karopola, near Welikanda. The father called a friend who lived in that area, asking that person to inquire. Three days later the friend called back to say the mans son was there. The father described for Human Rights Watch how he and members of the other families with abducted children went looking for their sons:
The father visited his son twice after that. During the first visit, he saw that his son had been wounded. His ear and his leg were black, the father said. He said that a mine had exploded near him during a fight and that his friend next to him had been killed and he had been wounded. The young mans mother tried to visit twice but the Karuna group members at the camp said her son was not there.
According to the father, he and the parents of four other abductees received 5,000 rupees each from their sons by postal order.
The family recognized the men who abducted their son but did not know their names. They were with the LTTE before, the young mans mother said.88
The mother and father said this was the second time a son had been abducted by an armed group, the LTTE having captured an older son two years before. The son abducted in June 2006 had also been abducted by the LTTE in 2005, the father said, but released.
In June Karuna forces abducted 13 boys and young men from a village in the Batticaloa district. Human Rights Watch spoke separately with four families who had sons abducted that day. They gave consistent testimony on how between 10 and 15 Karuna group members, armed and mostly in Sri Lankan army uniforms, detained the boys and young men in a nearby shop, ostensibly for investigation. The shop was across the street from an army post and some of the parents pleaded with the soldiers to intervene. Several soldiers spoke with the Karuna group members but the soldiers took no effective action to stop the abduction from taking place. Many of the family members subsequently visited their abducted children in a Karuna camp.
According to the father of a boy abducted that day, the incident began around 9 a.m., when four armed Karuna group members came to his home. He explained,
The mans wife went to the Valaichchenai police station to report the crime. The police opened a file, the father said, but they did not ask for a photograph or any identification for his son. They did ask how tall he was, his hair color, what he was wearing, he said. They didnt give us the complaint number. They havent done anything since. They didnt even bother to come here to investigate.
A few days later, the boys parents heard that the Karuna group was holding their son in a camp in Mutugalla near Welikanda. The father went there a few days after the abduction. He explained,
The father made this trip to the camp in Mutugalla three times, he said. He also received two months of salary from his son, totaling 12,000 rupees (US$112). The son gave the money to his father directly when they met.
Human Rights Watch interviewed the family of a young man also abducted that day. His older brother provided consistent testimony on how the Karuna group abducted the 13 boys and held them in the shop, as well as the involvement of Sri Lankan soldiers from a base across the street:
According to the brother, there is a Sri Lankan army camp across the street from the shop where the boys and young men were held, but the soldiers did not take any action to stop the abduction. He told Human Rights Watch,
The abducted young mans mother was one of those who tried to get the soldiers to help. She explained her efforts:
That evening the abducted young mans father went to the Valaichchenai police station with a group of parents, the brother said. The police opened a file and told the parents that they should not worry because the abductees would soon be free. The police initially refused to provide a copy of the police report but eventually did give it for a fee of 125 rupees (normally the report costs between 10 and 15 rupees, the brother said); only two parents got a copy of the police report. The family said the police have done nothing on the case since.
Two months after the abduction, the family visited the abducted young man in a Karuna camp in Mutugalla. They visited him four times in total, the brother said.
The mother of the young man claimed that she knew two men from the Karuna group responsible for the abductions that day. She told Human Rights Watch,
Human Rights Watch interviewed the mother of another young man abducted that day. The mother has three sons, and one of them had previously volunteered to join the LTTE, which may have been why her second-oldest son was targeted for abduction by the Karuna group. She told Human Rights Watch what she saw on the day of the abductions, including her interaction with the Sri Lankan army:
According to the mother, she went to the Welikanda area the next day to look for her son:
Between Sewanpitiya and Mutugalla are a police camp and an army camp, the mother said. Near the army camp is what she called a TMVP camp. While the parents were waiting, soldiers came out to inquire what was going on. She said,
Two months later, the mother saw her son at the Karuna camp, and she saw him twice more after that, she said. I want to come home but I cant escape, she said he told her. She continued, The last time I saw him was two weeks ago. He was wearing a uniform, a Sri Lankan army green uniform, as during all my previous visits except one. Many people wore the army uniform in the camp.
According to the mother, she has received 5,000 rupees on three occasions.
The mother of a boy taken that day said she did not witness the abduction, but she saw the armed men in the village, as well as the van that took them away. Give me back my son! she said she yelled at the Karuna group members before they drove away. Only if you give us your elder son, she said they replied.93
These Karuna guys are from the area, they know everything about us, the mother told Human Rights Watch. She added, Those responsible for the abduction are the Karunas. I know the head of this group, the one who was in charge of kidnapping the 14 kids. His name is [name withheld]. He belongs to Karunas group.
About two months later the mother reported the case to the police in Valaichchenai, who opened a file and provided her with a copy of the document, which Human Rights Watch inspected.
The police investigation led to no results, the mother said, so her husband decided to visit the Karuna camps to find their son. In early October he took a bus to the Sewanpitiya junction on the A11 road. At an army checkpoint there the soldiers asked where he was going. He explained that the Karuna group had abducted his child and they let him pass. The father succeeded to see his son in a Karuna camp, and the mother visited the camp herself on two other occasions.
Case 4 Two Cousins in Batticaloa District, June
In a joint interview, Human Rights Watch interviewed two sisters who had their sons, both young men, abducted together in June from a village in Batticaloa district. The mother of the younger man said,
The family went looking for the abducted men at the TMVP office in Mankerni the following day. According to the two mothers, at the office officials admitted that they were holding the young men but they had been transferred elsewhere for training.
Shortly thereafter the family reported the abductions to the police in Valaichchenai. The police opened a file and provided the complaint number. They didnt ask for a photo or an ID of the kids, the mother said. They asked for their height, weight and description. The police didnt do anything since.
About six weeks later, three members of the Karuna group brought the two young men home to visit their families for two hours, the mothers said. They were wearing Sri Lankan army uniforms and were armed, all of them, the five of them, the mother said. At some point our two boys told us that they couldnt escape because they would shoot them. The group came back the next morning for another visit of about three hours. They said they were based in Mutugalla camp, the mother said.
The two mothers went twice to the Mutugalla camp. The mother of the younger man explained,
On one day in September 2006 Karuna forces abducted 14 boys and young men from villages north of Batticaloa town. Human Rights Watch visited one village where three children were taken. The mother of the youngest abducted child said she subsequently saw her child and the other two abductees in the TMVP office in Batticaloa.
One teenage boy, a witness to the abductions, explained how a group of four boys were playing in a sandy lot when about 15 men with automatic weapons dressed in black pants and black shirts approached the children and clappeda sign that the children should come. In fluent Tamil the men told the children that they were needed to deliver some notices. When we were playing here they called us, the boy told Human Rights Watch. They said which of you is going to school. I gave them my name and my school and they said I should leave.95
The mother of the youngest abducted child said she tried to prevent her son from going. I held him by the hand and they said, Dont worry, well take him to distribute some notices, she said. I didnt believe them so I followed. It was in the village. They said, Go away! The men spoke fluent Tamil, she said. They told us they were from the Karuna group.96
An elderly man in the village also saw the group of armed men take the three boys away. I followed the Karuna guys as they took them away, he told Human Rights Watch. They raised their guns at me and shouted, Go away! One man said, Take me, and they hit him with a rifle butt.97
The parents of the abducted children, as well as some of the parents of the 11other boys and young men abducted from the area that day, tried to get their children back. They reported their cases in the coming days to the International Committee of the Red Cross, SLMM, and UNICEF, and some went searching in Karuna offices and camps.
I went to the Chenkalady camp of Karuna and they said the boys are in Batticaloa, the mother of the youngest abducted child said. I went to the office [of the TMVP in Batticaloa. I saw the children in a trishaw. It was at the bus depot on the main road. I saw them in a trishaw going to Batticaloa.
The mother was too afraid to approach the children because of the Karuna men in the area, but she went to the TMVP office in Batticaloa two days later. She told Human Rights Watch what she saw:
This mother also reported the abduction of her son to the national Human Rights Commission and to the police in Eravur. The police at the station were cordial, she said. They took her information and she spoke with the officer in charge but the police have taken no action since. We told the police it was Karuna, the mother said. We have heard nothing from them since.
The grandmother of one of the other abducted boys said she thought the abducted children were being held in Karunas camp at Karapola. Parents of two of the 14 children abducted from the area that day saw some children working as guards at the TMVP office in Batticaloa, she said. The children said that the others were at the Karapola camp.
The grandmother said her family had not reported the case to the police because they did not believe it would do any good.98
In September 2006 Karuna forces abducted two young boys from an area north of Batticaloa town.
According to the mother of the older abducted child, she went to the TMVP offices in Morakkottanchenai and Chenkalady after hearing the news. I also went to all five [Karuna] camps, she said. They said, No, he is not here. Then they said, Come again after one month. She continued, We showed a photo and they said, Maybe. But even if we have him we will only show him to you after one month.99
Three days later the TMVP office in Batticaloa told her to come in late October, although they did not confirm that they had taken her son.
She reported the case to the police, four days after the abduction and after her fruitless search at the camps. They took the information, she said, but treated her like a dog:
The mother of the younger abducted child, interviewed together with the mother of the older child, did not report her sons abduction to the police. Because Im scared, she said.100
Case 7 Boy in Trincomalee Town, September
In September 2006 members of the Karuna group abducted a teenage boy from a shop in town. The boys mother told Human Rights Watch what took place:
Human Rights Watch spoke with the sister of the abducted boy, who was in the shop when the abduction took place. She explained,
According to the mother of the abducted boy, her husband subsequently went to the TMVP office in town, where he saw his son with his legs chained.
A few days later the husband went back to the TMVP office, she said, but their son was not there. I then went to the office myself and asked for my son, she said. They replied, We dont have him. We didnt take anybody. But another guy told me Ill be able to see my son three months from now.
The family did not report the abduction to the police, out of fear.
In October Karuna forces abducted 12 boys and young men from a village in the Ampara district. As of October 18, they had released seven of the abductees.
According to the aunt of one of the abducted young men, the abductions took place on a main road around 6 p.m. The young man was riding home from work on a motorbike with two colleagues on another bike when they were stopped by Karuna group members with a white car and white van, both with tinted windows. The Karuna group members took the three young men in the car and van, along with their motorbikes. The family learned of the abduction shortly thereafter, when a witness informed them of what he had seen.
That night, the young mans mother went to the TMVP office in Akkaraipattu to look for her son, the aunt said. She saw a white car and white van with tinted windows leaving the office as she arrived. Officials at the office told her to come back the following day.
The next day, the young mans mother and other relatives returned to the TMVP office in Akkaraipattu. Officials there told them that they were not responsible for the abduction, the aunt said. Rather, it was another Karuna group from Welikanda commanded by a man called Bharathy. The TMVP officials in Akkaraipattu gave the family the young mans motorbike, which suggests that at some point he had been held at the office. The young mans older brother went to collect it.
Around the same time, a group of relatives of the other boys and young men abducted that day gathered outside the TMVP office to complain. Please release our sons! they yelled, according to the aunt and another witness who saw the group.
According to the aunt, some of the mothers went to a Karuna camp in the Welikanda areashe did not know which oneto speak with the commander Bharathy. She explained,
According to the aunt, Bharathy released the seven abductees only after obtaining detailed information about each familys financial affairs, health, and work status. The four boys and young men not released were sent for military training, she said.
On one day in October 2006, Karuna forces abducted two children and one adult in a village in Batticaloa district. Human Rights Watch researchers arrived at the scene about three hours after the abductions had taken place.
Local residents were visibly afraid to speak and gave only cursory information. One man, who did not want to give his name, said that armed men from the Karuna group had come that morning around 8 a.m. and taken two boys and a young man.104
Human Rights Watch spoke with the distraught mother of the abducted young man. She said that the Karuna forces had released the two boys but continued to hold her son. Maybe they suspected him of being an LTTE supporter, she said, although this was untrue.105
Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the abductions or whether the two boys were in fact released. While in the village, researchers observed approximately two dozen Sri Lankan soldiers patrolling the area, but it is not known if they were present when the abductions took place.
82 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with father of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
86 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
87 Human Rights Watch interview with father of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with father of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with brother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
91 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
93 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with teenage boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with elderly man, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with grandmother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Batticaloa district, October 2006.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted boy, Trincomalee town, October 2006.
102 Human Rights Watch interview with sister of abducted boy, Trincomalee town, October 2006.
103 Human Rights Watch interview with aunt of abducted young man, Ampara district, October 2006.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with local resident, Batticaloa district, October, 2006.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa district, October, 2006.