The Government yesterday said a police probe had been launched into the alleged illegal activities of the Karuna faction even as Amnesty International reiterated concerns of cadres loyal to the breakaway LTTE faction abducting civilians from displaced camps in the East.
Addressing the weekly defence news briefing in Colombo yesterday Government defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said investigations had been launched into complaints of the involvement of the Karuna faction in activities other than political work in Batticaloa.
`The Karuna cadres are carrying out political work in the area but at the same time there are complaints they are doing other activities as well and we are investigating those complaints. We will reveal the outcome in due course,` Minister Rambukwella said.
The UK based international rights group Amnesty International said armed groups, some identified as part of a breakaway group of Tamil Tigers known as the Karuna faction, were infiltrating camps for newly displaced people and abducting inmates.
`We are hearing reports of armed men, wearing the uniforms of the Karuna faction, roaming around the camps and even distributing relief goods,` said Purna Sen, Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International.
`The Karuna faction appears to operate throughout Batticaloa town with the complicity of the Sri Lankan authorities,` she said.
Apart from Batticaloa the Karuna faction operates political offices in Trincomalee and in Colombo. Residents in the vicinity of the Colombo office telephoned the Daily Mirror earlier this week and expressed concerns over the presence of the Karuna political office in the area.
Minister Rambukwella said President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at a meeting with police officers including the IGP last week, had impressed on the need to ensure any lapses in the security situation are addressed and corrected as soon as possible.
Aid agencies have raised concerns over the security threat to IDPs created by the Karuna faction in the East with the group allegedly moving around with arms. However the Karuna faction denied reports of abductions and intimidation of displaced civilians.
`The people who have been forced to flee the fighting are in an extremely vulnerable position. They have left behind their livelihoods and their homes, they may not know the area and they are likely to be very scared. The Government has a responsibility to ensure that camps are safe and civilian in nature -- it is unacceptable for men with guns to be wandering around as if they are in control,` Amnesty said.
According to Amnesty in one previously unreported incident on March 9, a 15-year-old boy was approached by men in a white van, as he waited for a bus at a temple near an IDP camp. Armed men tried to pull him into the van but his struggling and screams attracted a crowd and the abductors fled. A witness said Sri Lankan Army soldiers watched the incident but did not step in to help the boy.
`As the fighting continues, we fear even more people will be forced to seek protection in the camps -- and basic necessities like food and water will be stretched even further,` Ms. Sen said. `The Government must act now to ensure supplies can meet the increasing demand,` she said.
In a welcome move, the Government invited the UN Secretary General`s Representative on internally displaced people to the opening of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this week.