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Post-war Sri Lanka softens tough emergency laws

[Reuters, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 07:51 No Comment]

Sri Lanka relaxed on Monday its powerful wartime emergency rules, seeking to boost investment a year after the end of a 25-year war, officials said, a move likely to help it deflect criticism over its human rights record.

The decision coincided with the presidential pardon for a journalist convicted under the law, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris said.

The powerful regulations had given the government wide powers to arrest and detain people without any charges as the country fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to end a quarter century war that killed over 100,000 people.

The regulations have been used by successive Sri Lankan government since 1971 aiming to curb unrest in the island nation. The current emergency laws were enacted in August 2005 after Sri Lanka’s foreign minister was allegedly killed by the LTTE.

The law was used to convict a senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissanayagam to 20 years of hard labour on charges, including conspiracy and violation of the emergency regulations.

Western nations have blamed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration with maintaining tough regulations despite the end of the war, and the European union held back trade concessions worth $150 million annually to the island nation owing to the alleged rights abuses.

But the government said the regulations were essential to nail down the Tiger remnants and nab its international network.

Peiris said steps had been taken to relax the emergency rules with immediate effect.

"Measures have been taken for Sri Lanka to return to normalcy," he told reporters in Colombo.

"It is the right time to do the changes as normalcy is needed. There are lot of changes taking place to boost tourist arrivals and investments with the LTTE is defeated, so there is no need to keep those unnecessary regulations."

The island nation will, however, not relax its anti-terrorism law overnight, Peiris said.

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