Sri Lankans seek those missing from civil war

STORY: Arumuga Lakshmi is marching through a town in northern Sri Lanka, demanding answers about the fate of her two missing children.

They were among thousands, mostly Tamils, who went missing during a brutal 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and a militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"We've come thinking of our children. Two of my children went missing."

Few, if any of what were known as "enforced disappearances", have been accounted for.

And the government has offered varying details of what happened to them, with many facts still unknown, despite investigative efforts.

The instances of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka rank among the world's highest.

Human rights group Amnesty International estimate them to number between 60,000 and 100,000 since the late 1980s.

But the government's Office on Missing Persons, set up in 2017, said it had received just under 15,000 civilian reports of disappearances from 1981 onwards.

Pressure is growing on the government to act.

In a report on October 4, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the steps taken by the government had fallen short of the quote "tangible results expected by victims and other stakeholders".

Valantina Daniel said her 66-year-old injured mother disappeared during the war's final phase.

She had handed her ​mother to authorities, believing she would be taken to hospital, but has had no word of her since.

One of her younger brothers also went missing in 1999, another was killed in a shelling attack.

"I'll never accept that they're dead until the very end. Until today I still won't accept that. If he (my brother) is alive now, he'd be around 45 years old. I won't accept it until the end, I won't accept it whatsoever. Even if they say he's dead, I won't believe it unless I see it with my own eyes."

Daniel wrote to the authorities about her mother's case, which they acknowledged in 2011.

But she said the government has not done enough.

The chairman of the Office of Missing Persons rebutted claims that those who surrendered went missing, saying there was no evidence.

He added that the majority of those who disappeared had been abducted by the Tamil Tigers or factions opposed to it.

He also denies claims of a genocide of Tamil civilians during the war's final offensive in Mullivaikkal.

He said the army had instead rescued 60,000 civilians.

In the report, the U.N. rights agency says the Office of Missing Persons has not been able to trace a single disappeared person, and that its current purpose is to speed up the closure of files.

An OMP spokesperson blamed fuel shortages crippling Sri Lanka for being unable to meet a target of 5,000 interviews by year-end.

For Daniel, the crisis pales besides the hardships of 2009, when she went from village to village with no food and just the clothes she wore, for fear of shelling.

Over a decade later, she is still living in pain, trying to find her loved ones.