May 26, 2009 / 4:12 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-S.Lanka offers Tigers rehabilitation or trial

(releads with updated figures)

By Shihar Aneez

VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka, May 26 (Reuters) - More than 9,000 Tamil Tiger fighters have been questioned by judges following Asia’s longest modern war and the majority will undergo rehabilitation, Sri Lanka’s military said on Tuesday.

Many of the remaining 2,000 who have “self-confessed” are likely to face trial.

“They have taken guns, fought against the army. So they have to go through rehabilitation so that they can live as normal Sri Lankans,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

After declaring victory over the separatist rebels last week, the government must now decide the fate of about 262,000 people, nearly all of whom fled the fighting.

More than 210,000 are inside Manik Farm, the largest camp for war-displaced people in northern Sri Lanka. The military took journalists on Tuesday on a guided tour of the camp which was visited last weekend by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

Nanayakkara told reporters the process of weeding out and rehabilitating former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters was already under way. Each one has been brought before judges, he said.

Nanayakkara said anyone who had been trained by the LTTE to carry arms was considered a combatant.

“Since the start of fighting in different locations, 9,100 LTTE cadres have self-confessed. We have sent 7,000 of them to welfare camps for rehabilitation after legal proceedings, while others are facing court proceedings.”

The military has said it killed 22,000 LTTE fighters during its 34-month offensive to end the 25-year civil war and lost 6,200 of its own soldiers.

Family members of the fighters who surrendered said they were desperate for information. Some now in government custody had been seized by the LTTE.

“My 18-year-old only son was taken forcibly by LTTE and was given a 10-day training before being put on the frontline,” said Sri Pavani.

“But I left him...with a broken leg as military said they will not harm people who are surrendering. So far I do not have any information about him,” she said, wiping tears away.

The LTTE had hardcore regular fighters and dragooned at least one person from every family living in the areas it controlled.

Ban, the U.N. chief, visited the camps last week and urged the government to give aid agencies greater access. Human rights groups have criticised the facilities as inadequate.

The camps are guarded by the military which says it will ease access after it has filtered out the remaining fighters.

Sri Lanka has asked for international help to fund the camps and bristled at allegations from the LTTE they were “concentration camps.” The United Nations has said they are up to standard, save for the limits on freedom of movement.

Aid agencies have said they are trying to improve communication and registration so they can quickly reunite families who were separated during the final months of the war. (Writing by Ranga Sirilal, Editing by Bryson Hull and Robert Woodward)

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