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Sri Lanka rejects torture claims

[BBC, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 07:20 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s defence secretary has rejected claims that the army tortured Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran before killing him.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said there was "absolutely no truth" in reports the rebel leader had been captured alive.

He was responding to a recent report from a Sri Lankan human rights group which cited unnamed army sources saying Prabhakaran had been tortured.

His death came at the end of a 26-year war between the army and Tamil rebels.

The report, issued by the Sri Lankan human rights group, University Teachers for Human Rights, included an investigation into the likely scenarios of the Tamil Tiger leader’s death.

"These sources said that Prabhakaran was tortured probably at Division 53 HQ in the presence of a Tamil government politician and a general," it said.

The report added that its sources were confident the information was correct "unless officers at the highest level are fibbing to one another".

It also said that the military carried out a politically-ordered massacre of surrendering Tamil Tiger fighters.

The report was also profoundly critical of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), accusing the rebel group of murder, torture and the conscription of children.

The army maintains the rebel chief was killed during a confrontation in the Nanthi Kadal lagoon area.

Sri Lanka’s Island newspaper reported Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, as saying there was "absolutely no truth in claims of Prabhakaran or any other hard core being taken alive".

According to the newspaper, a senior army officer who was present when the rebel leader’s body was recovered called the claims in the report "ridiculous".

Court petition

Meanwhile two petitions have been filed asking Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court to rule that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other senior officials are violating the fundamental rights of displaced Tamils by detaining them in government-run camps.

The complaints were filed last week by the public policy group, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), which says that people are being held in overcrowded camps and have been refused permission to leave or meet relatives regularly.

"We recognise that there could be genuine national security concerns," Rohan Edirisnha, a CPA director told the BBC.

"But we are asking the court to lay down some criteria so that the whole process is expedited and done according to some kind of criteria, so it is not totally arbitrary and ad hoc," he said.

One of the petitions filed by the group is on behalf of a family member of one of the displaced who wants to be able to meet and take care of their relative.

About 280,000 people were displaced during the final bloody phase of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. Most of them are being housed in camps in the northern Vavuniya district.

The government has maintained that those held in the camps are being strictly vetted to ensure they have no links with the rebels. Only after that process can their return home be considered, it says.

The Sri Lankan army has also been continuing its search of former rebel-held territory.

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