Sri Lanka sets up new courts to try war suspects

Sri Lanka is setting up new courts to accelerate cases against hundreds of Tamil rebel suspects three years after the end of the island's bloody ethnic war, a government spokesman said Thursday.

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the justice ministry would open three courts near the former war zone in the northeast of Sri Lanka to hear charges against more than 650 detainees.

"We have taken a decision to speed up the cases," Abeywardena told reporters in Colombo.

The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party has accused authorities of holding detainees in dire conditions, some of them for years without being charged.

The suspects are accused of crimes including being members of the outlawed Tamil Tigers, the armed rebel movement that fought against the government for years to establish a Tamil homeland.

"We call upon the government to take immediate steps to release all the Tamil political prisoners since three years have lapsed after the armed conflict ended," TNA leader R. Sampanthan told parliament this week.

He said the government claimed to have released over 10,000 Tamil rebels who had surrendered to security forces during the final stages of fighting in 2009, but many hundreds still remained in custody while others had been re-arrested.

Sri Lanka's government has said that over 12,000 rebels gave themselves up to security forces as the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were wiped out in May 2009.

Government forces crushed Tamil rebels in a military campaign that triggered allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

The UN has said that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of fighting, a charge denied by Colombo.

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