Sri Lanka holds suspects despite end to emergency
Colombo: Sri Lanka on Wednesday used draconian anti-terror laws to detain thousands of Tamil rebel suspects who would have had to be freed when a state of emergency ended after 28 years, an official said.
Attorney General Mohan Peiris said President Mahinda Rajapakse invoked regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to ensure that the authorities continue to hold suspects detained under emergency laws.
Rajapakse last week said the state of emergency would end by midnight Tuesday, but the new regulations mean that detainees will not be freed.
"No suspects will be released and there is no change even though the emergency has been allowed to lapse," Peiris told reporters.
His remarks came as Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem told state media that about 1,200 alleged Tamil Tiger rebels will soon be released with the end of emergency rule, imposed 28 years ago to deal with the separatist movement.
Peiris said new regulations under the PTA will ensure that a ban imposed on the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and a front organisation will also continue indefinitely.
When the guerrillas were crushed in 2009, the Sri Lankan government said it was holding about 12,000 members of the rebel LTTE, some of whom had been freed in the past two years. However, it is not known how many remain in custody.
Emergency laws were first imposed in 1983 when Tamil rebels escalated their violent campaign for an independent state for the island's ethnic Tamil minority.
The laws, which gave security forces sweeping powers of arrest, were renewed on a monthly basis with only brief breaks.
The decision to end emergency rule comes ahead of next month's United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva which is expected to discuss alleged war crimes during the last stages of the ethnic conflict.
The United States has been leading international calls for an investigation into alleged atrocities on both sides as a massive military offensive finally crushed the rebels.
Sri Lanka has so far managed to stave off censure from UN bodies, thanks to the support of allies China and Russia.
Rights groups say tens of thousands of civilians perished in the final months of fighting, while the UN has noted "credible allegations" of war crimes committed by both sides.
Colombo has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and resisted foreign calls for a probe.