Refugees, robbed, molested on sandbank in Mannar sea
[TamilNet, Monday, 07 March 2005, 15:39 GMT]
A group of fifty Sri Lankan Tamil refugees abandoned on a sandbank in the seas off Thalaimannar were assaulted and robbed of all their belongings and savings by five armed men, the victims told Mannar courts Monday. The armed men had stripped and molested the women in the group at gun point. The refugees told Mannar magistrate Mr. N.M.M Abdullah they had left from camps in South India where they had been living for the last fifteen years.
The refugees said they had left in a fishing boat from Rameswaram on the South Indian coast on Friday night. There were twenty seven females and twenty three males. There were several children too in the group.
The refugee runner had agreed to ferry them clandestinely to a sandbank in Sri Lanka’s maritime zone charged them three thousand Indian rupees (approx. 65 USD) each.
However, he had abandoned them on a sandbank in India’s maritime zone on Saturday morning.
After passing Indian fishing boats told the refugees they were still in Indian waters, they had pleaded with a fishing boat from Thanushkodi, a town on Tamil Nadu’s southern coast, to take them to a place inside the Sri Lankan maritime zone.
“The boatmen demanded twenty thousand Indian rupees for helping us. But eventually we persuaded them to take us for less”, one of the refugees told TamilNet.
Relating the harrowing tale further he said: “But these boatmen also cheated us. They abandoned us on a sandbank far from the Mannar coast. A third group of Indian fishermen who saw us, adamantly demanded twenty thousand Indian rupees and some gold jewels our women were wearing. We gave what they wanted as we were quite desperate at the time. They left us on a sandbank close to Thalaimannar on Saturday night around 9.30”.
“We were getting ready to spend the night there, hoping that we would be spotted either by the Sri Lanka Navy at Thalaimannar or by fishermen there, when we heard a boat approaching. Five men armed with guns and swords who ashore mercilessly beat up all of us, including the children. They did not speak. They robbed everything we had. Then they took us, all the men away to a corner of the sandbank at gunpoint. Then four of them struggled with the women to strip them and to molest them while gunman stood guard. Our women pleaded with the gunmen to no avail”, the refugee man said.
The Thalaimannar parish priest, who heard from local fishermen that a group of refugees had been abandoned on a sandbank, rescued them with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) around 7.30 in the morning on Sunday.
However, the refugees did not complain to the Thalaimannar SLN or Police about incident.
They related their nightmare to their lawyer when the Mannar magistrate was about to release them. They said they were scared of repercussions. But declined to specify what they feared.
A refugee woman told TamilNet’s Mannar correspondent that five females in their group were raped at gunpoint.
But Thalaimannar Police said they did not receive any complaint regarding rape from the refugees.
Mannar magistrate instructed Thalaimannar Police to investigate the matter and submit a report to the courts on 18 March.
The refugees are from Jaffna, Vauniya, Trincomalee and Nuwara Eliya.