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UK must prosecute Karuna: HRW

Last updated on: November 21, 2007 17:54 IST

Human Rights Watch has said the British government must prosecute rebel Tamil tiger leader Colonel Karuna Amman.

British immigration officials detained Karuna, also known as Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, on November 2.

Karuna, according to a latest HRW report has been involved in horrific crimes including the recruitment of children as soldiers.

HRW says the British government must open criminal investigation against the former LTTE leader in the interest of justice.

"It is time the British government acted against Karuna. UK has strong Human Rights Laws and hence there should be no problem in prosecuting him," Meenakshi Ganguly, a senior south India researcher for HRW, said.

The rebel military commander has long been linked to the summary execution and torture of civilians and the use of children as soldiers. Till the time he left the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in March 2004, Karuna was the Tigers' top commander in eastern Sri Lanka, and the reputed number two in the LTTE hierarchy.

The HRW feels he should be tried in the UK itself and extraditing him to Sri Lanka would not be a good idea as he had been give de facto amnesty by the Sri Lankan government and his armed group fought against the LTTE in recent years.

Hence there is not much the Sri-Lankan government may do, the HRW says.

Karuna is a dreaded man in Sri Lanka. The father of a young boy, while speaking on his son's abduction by Karuna's men says, "I tried my best to keep them from taking my son away, but they threatened to shoot me. My son was crying and my wife begged them not to do it. But they just pushed us away."

Karuna's group, which has abducted over 3000 boys, used to hold them in one of their offices. Karuna's offices are often guarded by the Sri Lankan police or army, a report by the HRW states. A few days later these children are transferred to one of the camps at Welikanda town in Polonnaruwa district in Sri-Lanka where they are trained to fight.

Interestingly, this place also houses the Sri Lankan army's 23rd division. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says transporting these boys would not have been possible without the complicity of government security forces. In 2004, the HRW investigated the recruitments and use of children as soldiers and found that Karuna's force used to visit Tamil Homes and force parents to give up one of their sons for the movement.

In June 1990, around 600 police officers in the east who surrendered to the LTTE, were

bound, gagged and beaten. The Tamil Tigers, including forces under Karuna's control, then executed the Sinhalese and Muslims among them. In July 1990, Karuna's forces stopped a convoy of Muslims traveling in Baundertticaloa district and executed about 75 people, including women and children. In August 1990 Karuna's forces killed more than 200 civilians in two incidents in Batticaloa district.

After Karuna broke away from the LTTE his group operated with the complicity of the Sri Lankan security forces. The Karuna group, as it was known, engaged in abduction of children for use as soldiers in Sri Lanka's eastern districts, taking boys from their homes, work places, temples, playground, public roads, camps for the internally displaced, and even a wedding. These abuses are documented in the Human Rights Watch report "Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group," published in January 2007.

HRW says it is not necessary for Karuna to be brought to Sri Lanka. The British laws permit the prosecution of individuals for serious violation of international law including torture and war crimes. Faryadi Sarwar, an Afghan Warlord was convicted by a UK court in 2005 for acts torture in Afghanistan before he was arrested in the UK, HRW points out.

Hence the concept of convicting a person for crimes committed outside the UK is not new. HRW says that the UK government will do great service to humanity if it tried Karuna and prosecuted him for crimes against humanity.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore