The disappearance of a dual citizen, Premakumar Gunaratnam, who recently challenged the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) leadership and announced the launch of a new party, the Frontline Socialist Party, is the latest issue to create significant tensions in the Australia-Sri Lanka relationship.
Premakumar Gunaratnam and another activist, Dimithu Attygalle, disappeared in Sri Lanka on April 6. A meeting to launch the party was underway in Colombo on Tuesday.
In response to an e-mail enquiry, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said: “We have received reports a 42-year-old man from New South Wales is missing in the region of Kiribathigoda, Sri Lanka. Reports suggest he may have been abducted. We are seeking urgent clarification on the situation from the Sri Lankan authorities.
“The Australian High Commissioner in Colombo has spoken to senior Sri Lankan government officials to advise them of our concerns for the man's welfare and to request their assistance in locating him. Consular Officers in Canberra are in contact with the man's family in Australia.”
Soon after Australia sought the clarification, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa asked the Australian mission here to prove Mr. Gunaratnam had returned to Sri Lanka, says a report in The Island newspaper. “Rajapaksa emphasised that as far as records pertaining to arrivals at the Bandaranaike International Airport were concerned, no Australian national carrying a passport bearing the name Premakumar Gunaratnam had ever come to Sri Lanka,” the newspaper said in its lead story on Monday.
Mr. Premkumar, a Tamil, was active in the JVP in the late eighties and rose to prominence because of his command over Tamil, Sinhala and English. After his brother Ranjitham, a JVP activist, was killed in 1989, Mr. Premkumar was arrested during a state-sponsored crackdown. He was released under a deal struck during the Premadasa regime that involved targeting the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Resources accessed indicate he killed 14 IPKF men in a landmine blast near Trincomalee. For a brief period in 1994 he surfaced — during the elections, when he was in charge of Hambantota district — but went underground following police harassment.
One official source that followed the developments during the period said he was helped by Upcountry People's Front leader Chandrasekaran to escape to Australia. After this he surfaced in September 2011 at a JVP meeting in Colombo and was involved in an open altercation with JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe. Mr. Premkumar found many supporters within the party and was working towards gaining control of the party's assets when he vanished.
According to Groundviews, a website on Sri Lankan current affairs run by the non-governmental organisation Centre for Policy Alternatives, 29 disappearances have been reported in Sri Lankan media between February and March 2012. This brings the total number of disappearances reported in the last six months to 56.