Mothers of Sri Lanka's 100,000 'disappeared' desperately looking for answers

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

Officially Sri Lanka's long civil war finished nine years ago.

But for tens of thousands of Tamils its trauma is never-ending.

They are the relatives of the disappeared, people who vanished during the 26-year conflict.

The majority of them were Tamils taken away by government forces, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

Amnesty International says 100,000 people have disappeared.

Amnesty International says the ranks of the disappeared number 100,000.

A UN team that investigated the practice said it was done systematically and on a massive scale.

In Tamil areas in northern Sri Lanka, relatives of the disappeared have been staging roadside protests for more than a year in their quest for answers.

They say the government has turned a blind eye to the issue.

Protesters have felt ignored by the government.

Their mistrust of the authorities is illustrated by a striking photograph of Sri Lanka's current leader, President Sirisena, surrounded by Tamil schoolchildren.

Incredibly, five mothers have come forward and claimed that their missing teenagers are in the photograph.

According to her mother, Jeromy Kasipillai is front left, staring to the right.

She was 17 when she was forcibly separated from her family and taken away.

Jeyavanitha Kasipillai's daughter went missing when she was 17.

The mother, Jeyavanitha, says she first saw the photo when it was used in a pamphlet during the 2015 presidential election campaign.

She said when she recognized Jeromy she was so overcome by emotion she burst into tears.

When he was on the campaign trail in 2015, Mrs Kasipillai got to meet President Sirisena in person.

She said that when she produced the photo and pointed out her daughter he broke into a cold sweat.

He promised her he would look into it, but almost three years later she has heard nothing.

Annalaxmi Hussain's husband and two sons have all vanished.

Another mother, Annalaxmi Hussain, said that when she first saw her son in the picture she fainted.

She claims Suresh is the boy just visible bottom right in the photo.

Suresh was 13 when he and his 15-year-old brother Ravi went missing in 2009. Mrs Hussain's husband Mohammad vanished six years earlier.

A spokesman in the President's Office in Colombo told ITV News that the controversial photograph was bogus and had been doctored - a curious claim given that it first appeared in a presidential election pamphlet.

Ms Hussain says she still believes her family will return.

The official also disputed the number of disappeared Tamils. He said he didn't agree with tens of thousands.

Relatives fear the government is playing for time in the hope that as the years pass the disappeared will become the forgotten.

These mothers are trying to ensure that doesn't happen.