Sri Lankan Pastor, Sons Missing Amid 'Shocking' Abduction Trend

Correction appended

A Sri Lankan pastor, his two sons, and another Christian young man are missing amid turmoil in the south Asian country suffering from decades of conflict between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Pastor Victor E.M.S. Yogarajan, 51, of the Gospel Missionary Church in the northern city of Vavuniya, his two sons – Daniel, 22, and David, 20 - and Joseph Suganthakumar, 20, have been missing since Mar. 2, reported the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka on Friday.

The missing individuals were last known to be in the central-west city of Negombo, where Yogarajan called his wife on the night of Mar. 1. Their disappearance has been reported to the local police but no information has been reported about their whereabouts. The local police in Negombo, Sri Lanka, also said they have no knowledge about the location of the missing pastors and the young men.

According to NCEASL, there has been a growing number of disappearances and abductions of civilians recently.

The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that disappearances in Sri Lanka occur at the rate of one for every five hours.

"This is indeed a shocking trend for any nation, particularly for a Democratic nation such as Sri Lanka with an elected government," commented NCEASL in an appeal letter.

Sri Lanka officially ended a two-decade civil war in 2002, but violence has persisted between the rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the elected government. LTTE says it is fighting to create a separate state for the country's 3.1 million ethic minority Tamils, which it says is being discriminated against in Sri Lanka.

In January, an NCEASL pastor, the Rev. Nallathamby Gnanaseelan, was shot dead by security forces on the streets. The 38-year-old Sri Lankan pastor was not involved in any political activity but the police initially accused him of carrying explosives and said they shot him after he refused to halt when they ordered him to stop.

In addition to abductions and killings of innocent civilians, reports also indicate that the fighting has resulted in church bombings.

Last December, a grenade was thrown at police guarding a church conducting Christmas service with some 500 people inside. The Tamil Tigers were accused of throwing the grenade that killed a policeman and wounded three others.

Similarly, in June the navy fired and threw grenade at a church building housing 3,000 people taking refuge from a battle between the LTTE and the navy the previous day. The navy was said to have unreasonable expectation that the civilians provide them with information about the LTTE in the area. Among those that died was a 75-year-old woman when a grenade fell on her head; forty-seven more were wounded in the event.

The United Nations estimates that some 70,000 people have been killed and 465,000 displaced by Sri Lanka's ongoing conflict, including 205,000 uprooted since fighting intensified in April 2006 despite the ceasefire signed in 2002.

Correction: Tuesday, March 13, 2007:

An article on Monday, Mar. 12, 2007, about the disappearance of a Sri Lankan pastor and three young Christian men incorrectly reported the age of the pastor's son, David Yogarajan. According to the report by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, Yogarajan is 20 years old, not 22.