Over 20,000 people who disappeared during Sri Lanka‘s bloody civil war are dead, the country’s president has admitted for the first time.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa said death certificates would soon be issued, according to a statement from his office on Monday.
Sri Lanka’s civil war, which lasted for 26 years, killed an estimated 100,000 people and left about 20,000 people, mostly Tamils, missing.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
“Most of them had been taken by the LTTE (Tamil Tiger rebels) or forcefully conscripted. The families of the missing attest to it,” the statement said.
“However they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing.”
Mr Rajapaksa made his decision during a meeting with the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Colombo last week, the statement added.
Relatives have been demanding to know for years the whereabouts of the missing, with hundreds attending rallies to pressure the government.
The war, which pitted the majority Buddhist Sinhalese-dominated government against the Tamil Tigers, ended in 2009 with the defeat of the rebels, who had been fighting for an independent state for the country’s ethnic minority.
Scores of fighters went missing in action, while others were abducted by security forces and government paramilitaries, as well as the Tamil Tigers.
Relatives say they handed over hundreds of their family members after government forces asked those with any remote links to the rebels to surrender as they faced defeat in 2009.
They say they are not heard from after being taken away by the military in buses.
An Office on Missing Persons set up in 2015 has been investigating 23,586 cases, including those of 5,000 security forces.
A law enacted in 2016 mandated that an interim report be given to the relatives if there is sufficient evidence the relevant person is missing. At the end of an investigation a final report will be given to enable the relatives to obtain a Certificate of Absence or a Death Certificate as per the outcome.
It was unclear how Mr Rajapaksa’s government came to the conclusion all the missing persons were dead. Mr Rajapaksa served as a top defence official during the war.
Additional reporting by Associated Press