‘Kidnapped’ Sri Lankan activist who helped oust Gotabaya Rajapaksa

'Kidnapped' Sri Lankan activist who helped oust Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Premkumar Gunaratnam has held Gotabaya Rajapaksa responsible for the war crimes.

Colombo:

Activist Premkumar Gunaratnam says he was killed a decade ago by a Sri Lankan security officer. The architect of his abduction became the president, but now the dissident has played a key role in the leader’s downfall.

Now 56, Gunaratnam was snatched from his home near Colombo by armed gunmen, tied up in a white van, and taken to a secret location where he was intercepted, snatched and tortured.

Dozens of other dissidents, journalists and opposition politicians were confiscated by men working in plainclothes in unmarked vehicles in 2012. Many are never seen again.

Gunaratnam, a radical leftist who was about to start a new political party, was one of the lucky ones: international pressure secured his unexpected release four days later.

Sri Lanka’s security forces were then controlled by Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who later became president, oversaw the country’s worst economic crisis and fled the island before resigning last week after Rokaratnam was attacked by protesters at his home. Marshall helped.

“He kidnapped me and wanted to kill me,” she told AFP. “But it’s not personal,” he said with a smile.

Local media described the activist as a “prime proponent” who led a months-long protest movement that turned despair over the economic crisis into a political revolution.

It brought about the fall of a political clan once loved by most of the country, ending its decades-long civil war, despite an international outcry over torture by government troops in the final weeks of the conflict.

Gunaratnam told AFP that Rajapaksa’s sacking and a hasty flight to Singapore were a “victory for democracy”, but added that the protesters’ mission would remain incomplete until they face justice in a Sri Lankan court.

“He is one of the key persons responsible for the kidnappings and disappearances, and he is one of the persons responsible for war crimes,” he said.

white van

Security forces reportedly abducted troubled opponents so often during and after Sri Lanka’s ethnic war that being “white-washed” became a euphemism for the kidnapping.

Rajapaksa acknowledged the practice of white-van hijackings to a local reporter in 2019, but also said it was premature in his time as Sri Lanka’s defense secretary and said he needed to “find out” the blame. was inappropriate.

Gunaratnam approaches his 2012 experience with remarkably good humour, though it only came months after two of his closest teammates disappeared, never to be seen again.

Fearing retribution for his political activity, he was granted Australian citizenship after fleeing the country, and he credits being lobbied by the Canberra ambassador to save his life.

Gunaratnam has spent his life in revolutionary politics and, in a country with a long history of armed conflict and human rights abuses, this was not his first close brush with death.

As a teenager, he became involved in a left-wing political uprising in the 1980s and, according to Sri Lankan journalist Victor Ivan, when he raided an army camp in Kandy for weapons, he joined the university as soldiers. Commanded a group of students.

He was eventually arrested in a trap allegedly by Army Commander Sarath Fonseca, whom Gunaratnam accused of presiding over hundreds of extrajudicial killings in the northeastern city of Trincomalee during the conflict.

“I was counting down the days until the end of my life,” he told AFP.

They say they were released only because the government was under pressure to kill other activists and they had to show that some of the missing were still alive.

Fonseca is now a likely candidate in a parliamentary vote to replace Sri Lanka’s president.

Among the candidates is the president’s son Sajith Premadasa, whose administration Gunaratnam fought for a coup in the 1980s – a testament to the dense nature of Sri Lankan politics.

One of the ministers in that government was Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is now at the forefront as acting president and Rajapaksa’s successor.

Many Sri Lankan protest activists are against all presidential candidates and are instead calling for the abolition of broad executive powers, which the movement blames for allowing corruption and political violence to flourish.

Gunaratnam, who had left the armed struggle long ago, said there was a need to step up the road campaign to implement more comprehensive political reforms.

“We don’t expect democracy from rulers,” he said. That’s why people came on the streets and showed what democracy is.

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