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In a hard hitting statement Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday said that the work of the Office of Missing Persons has been distorted and manipulated for political gain. The Minister criticising former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “A cause that was once close to his heart is today a tool of power hungry politicians, including the likes of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was ironically a founder of the Mother’s Front Movement”. “If the question of the missing still remains high on the agenda with the reported numbers of the missing rising each day, the question remains why it is no longer a cause worth fighting for,” he asks.

“The answer is sad and simple. Self-serving policies and party politics have taken precedence over the suffering families of those gone missing over the past 30 years.

For Mr. Rajapaksa in 1989, this cause was worth getting arrested for at the airport, while he carried documents with information regarding the missing to the UNHRC in Geneva, and today, the same movement has been portrayed by this camp as an attack on our War Heroes.”

The Minister dismayed by the discourse states candidly that the voice that once spoke so passionately against these crimes suddenly started changing their tone. These same voices began switching camps so unexpectedly that lately many of the attacks on the OMP have been directed from the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.

Clarifying the work of the OMP, Minister Samaraweera states that it is not a law-enforcement or judicial body.

Citing the Act, he states that “the findings of the OMP shall not give rise to any criminal or civil liability.”

He also refers to the myths surrounding the OMP stating that claims of it being a witch-hunt to prosecute the War Heroes is a blatant lie and that the OMP cannot prosecute perpetrators of violence.

“These rumours are political manipulations to deter the fair and just actions taken by the government towards peace and reconciliation. The OMP gives the chance for renewed faith and hope for those who have lost their families and friends. It is not limited to an area or ethnicity but promises dignity and prosperity for all.”

He cites stats by the international of the Red Cross which states that over 16,000 individuals have gone missing during the civil war. Of them, 5100 belonged to the armed forces.

“These are the very same individuals who fought against the terror that the LTTE created. We as a nation, have a responsibility to find the Committee truth about where they are, and to bring an end to the agony faced by their families and loved ones.”

He also emphasises that the OMP’s work cuts across all ethnic and religious boundaries. That it seeks to investigate persons missing in connection with the conflict of the North and East and its aftermath. This includes those of all ethnicities; including the Armed Forces and police who have been identified as “missing in action”.

“It will investigate into those gone missing during political unrest or civil disturbances in the south as well as victims of enforced disappearances island wide. The mandate of the OMP ensures that it will carry out searching and tracing of missing persons, clarifying the circumstances in which such persons went missing and their fate, making recommendations to relevant authorities in order to reduce incidents of missing and disappeared persons, and identifying proper avenues of redress available to the families of the missing persons and informing them of the same.”