South Asia

Tamil Tiger's wife pleads for help in finding him

Tamils attending the commission hearing in Vavuniya
Image caption Many Tamils have aired their grievances in front of the commission

It is an emotive and highly passionate plea.

"My husband surrendered to the Sri Lankan army in front of my eyes on 18 May 2009 after the end of the war," laments Ananthi Sasitharan to Sri Lanka's government-appointed reconciliation commission.

"I have not heard anything about him after that. Please help me find him."

Ms Sasitharan is a mother of three and the wife of Ezhilan, a prominent regional political leader of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels - otherwise known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - who fought a 20-year campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country before their defeat last year.

Ezhilan was in charge of the rebels' political wing in eastern Trincomalee district. He was among the few LTTE leaders authorised to speak to the media.

Ceased hostilities

After the fall of the eastern province, Ezhilan and other LTTE leaders retreated to the northern Vanni region - one of the last remaining areas still controlled by the rebels.

Image caption The scars of war have not easily faded for the Tamil community

Ananthi Sasitharan told the commission that she witnessed her husband and hundreds of other cadres surrendering to the Sri Lankan army.

She said that the rebels fled the war zone with the civilian population and joined numerous top Tamil Tiger leaders who all ceased hostilities and gave themselves up at the same time.

These included well known rebels such as Thangan - the deputy leader of the LTTE's political wing - administrative head Poovannan Iniyavan, Jaffna political leader Illamparithi and Lawrance Tilakar, who was at one time in charge of the rebels' international secretariat.

BBC journalists were not allowed to attend the hearings but the BBC's Tamil service spoke to Ms Sasitharan afterwards by telephone.

"An army official identified my husband. He was taken away and I was sent to the Vavuniya camp along with others. I have not heard anything about him since," Ms Sasitharan said.

"They all surrendered under the leadership of one Father Francis, a [Roman Catholic] English teacher. Nothing is known of his whereabouts either."

After the end of the war, the Sri Lankan government released a long list containing the names of top LTTE leaders who were killed in the battle. But it has not named Ezhilan in it.

Numerous allegations have surfaced in the past about missing LTTE cadres. But this is the first time a relative of a top LTTE leader has spoken out.

War without witnesses

The rumours have been there from the outset, however.

Image caption Ezhilan has not been seen since he surrendered

A few days after the end of Sri Lankan civil war, allegations emerged that the leader of the Tamil rebel's political wing, B Nadesan and dozens of others were killed after they surrendered to the Sri Lankan army.

Top UN officials were said to be involved in the talks about the surrender.

The Sri Lankan government denies war crime charges. The UN refuses to give full details on the role it played in the saga.

What is known is that the government barred the media from going to the war zone and forced non governmental organisations away from areas of heavy fighting. This led to the rather infamous phrase "war without witnesses".

The government has admitted that it took 11,000 LTTE cadres into custody at the end of war. It has so far released more than 3,500 of them. But it refuses to reveal names and other details about them.

"When the government initially released the handicapped cadres [those who lost limbs in the fighting], I met them and asked them about my husband. But no-one was able to give me any details about him," Ms Sasitharan said.

She said that she and others like her have petitioned the president, the rehabilitation minister and the Red Cross - but so far to no avail.

Human rights groups have voiced their concerns about the condition of the prisoners.

And BBC Tamil has received a number of complaints from detainees. There are even fears about possible extra-judicial killings.

But Ananthi Sasitharan is confident.

"I think the president of Sri Lanka will know about him. Nothing can happen here without his knowledge. I think my husband is being kept in an undisclosed location. There was no need for the army to kill him after the end of the war."

She described in detail the place where her husband and others surrendered and is confident that she will have no problems identifying it.

Ms Sasitharan says she has no faith in the government-appointed reconciliation commission, but at the same time she says she is not afraid to speak out.

"I am ready to face any consequences. I told this to the commission. I have no great interest to live," she says.

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