Corporal Veena Sittambi Velnayagam, service no 01009, is still missing since 2nd May 2006. Hailing from Anandagama, behind the Salawa Army Camp in Avissawella, which became known to the whole world after an explosion in an ammunition warehouse on 5th June 2016, his case remains an enigma.
Velnayagam’s cause of death as stated in his death certificate issued by the Registrar of the Seethawaka Divisional Secretariat is the belief that he is presumed dead since he was missing for over a year.
The Absentee List
The former corporal worked as a translator at the media unit of Army Headquarters. He used to take the ‘Liberty’ bus from Avissawella to travel to and from work. He’s usually gets home around 6.50pm. However, on the evening of 2nd May 2006, he didn’t return home.
From then on, the army began to regard this soldier as a deserter and his name was added to the ‘Absentee List.’
Corporal’s wife struggled to make a living for herself and her three children since his disappearance. The Army retained all allowances including his salary. The family spent most of their time and money on police complaints, Human Rights Commission complaints, letters to the Army Commander, the Ministry of Defense and the President.
Meanwhile, even their associates in Anandagama began to avoid them. When asked about it, what they have said is “if we talk with you, we will also have trouble, will have to go to the police.” Strangers were on the lookout for the mother, children and for any visitors. They were locked up in solitude with no income.
An allowance from 2010
There was no proper investigation into the police complaints or HRC complaints. Corporal’s wife and children would have thought that the money spent on the letters and their efforts were in vain. But as a result of the continued effort, an allowance was paid to the family from 17th August 2010. It was at that time when the Army informed them that they could be paid with the Widows and Orphans Pension, considering his service since 1990.
Do you see the extent of this issue? Even though a pension is paid, that is too after four years. Despite his name appearing in the absentee list, the Army was not able to consider the service of that soldier for four years. His family and relatives were said that neither an allowance nor pension can be paid because he was ‘absent.’ But the situation has changed over the cause of four years. A letter sent home by the military and a letter to the HRC stated that the case had been investigated by a preliminary inquiry court and that it was suspected that he had been abducted by the LTTE.
Decisions based on suspicion
“Several of his associates were killed by the LTTE and it is suspected that he too may have been killed by the LTTE,” the Army have mentioned in a letter to the HRC dated 2nd May 2017.
If so, is it appropriate to treat him as a deserter and avoiding paying his well-deserved pension? The Army Preliminary Investigation Court says it is fair to suspect that he is murdered. If so, why is the privilege of other fallen soldiers not being given to his family, even after 11 years of his disappearance?
It is after 11 years of the soldier’s disappearance, the Army Headquarters states to the HRC that he has left the headquarters with his sign on the book, he has boarded the ‘Liberty’ and alighted at the Salawa. However according to the record submitted on 19th February 2017, by the then OIC of the Kosgama Police Station to the Commanding Officer No. 1 of the Sri Lanka National Security Forces, no information has been revealed that the relevant corporal has gone missing in the Kosgama Police Division.
A pure hearted man
According to the villagers of Salawa Junction and Anandagama, this corporal is a golden hearted man. He is someone who would laugh and talk with people of any level. He usually gets off the ‘Liberty’ bus at Salawa junction around 6.50pm daily. It’s a time at which the Junction is crowded. A time which the people who go to work meet each other on their way back home. This Corporal who takes this routine has had a lot of friends like this.
Eleven years later, the army says, according to the bus driver, the corporal got off at Salawa Junction. If so, why wasn’t there evidence that anyone saw him? On the other hand, if he was abducted after getting off the bus, why didn’t anyone at the junction see that happening? Kosgama Police Station in the Salawa area claims that there have been no such disappearances reported in their area so far.
So, what happened to this corporal? He had a close relationship with his wife and children. The day he went missing was his son’s birthday. The father had told the younger daughter that he would bring a cake to celebrate her brother’s birthday, over the phone from the army headquarters. So, there shouldn’t be any other plans he has had that evening other than getting home.
The story of uncle Mahendran
There’s another story. It’s about a person called ‘Uncle Mahendran.’ He is an old friend of this missing corporal. He was someone who came to the corporal’s house quite often. A week before the corporal’s disappearance, ‘Uncle Mahendran’ has been to the corporal’s house and has taken all his belongings including few shirts and trousers. Uncle Mahendran who used to come alone, had arrived in a white care with three other people on that day.
He didn’t appear again at Corporal’s house after his disappearance. Uncle Mahendran alias Santivel Mahendran was an anti LTTE activist and has been a PLOTE operative since Black July 1983. He had fled to India due to LTTE threats and was back in Sri Lanka and appeared with Karuna Amman in public. After Karuna left LTTE in 2004, Uncle Mahendran had become one of his loyal followers. After Karuna Amman started close dealings with the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, this Uncle Mahendran had continued to stay in Colombo.
Uncle Mahendran is also on the list of most wanted people in Interpol. His name appears in the section on crimes against life and health. He is accused of torturing and killing a Tamil couple who lived in Switzerland. Although the Interpol had informed the Sri Lanka Police about this, he has not had any problems so far. When the Corporal’s family was asked who they suspected they have pointed towards Uncle Mahendran. The Corporal had told the family that he feels like he is being chased by someone, after Uncle Mahendra came to his place with three people last time. Why would he say such a thing? Even though the police were told about these, the police have informed the HRC that no evidence has been revealed that Mahendran was involved in the disappearance. It could be so.
But how can all this be so contradictory and interconnected?
Lots of contradictions
The Army says he came by bus and got off at Salawa junction. Police say there is no evidence that he went missing in that area. His family states that they suspect Mahendran is behind this. Police says there is no evidence against Mahendran in connection with this. Mahendran was a close associate of Karuna Amman at the time. There are several issues here. First, the military has held a preliminary inquiry into the matter. But as the general procedure, no family member was summoned to the court. That is, a lateral test. Why was that? After the corporal’s disappearance, his bank card had been used in two occasions to credit his salary. Two days after the disappearance, Rs. 5000 was withdrawn in Yakkala on 4th May and Rs. 7500 in Maharagama on 24th May. This information was revealed when the sought bank advice to deactivate the relevant bank card.
The tragedy of the missing
His family had hope at least to witness their father’s body. This is the tragedy faced by all the families of the missing. They have given up their all hope without seeing an end.