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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 18:54 GMT
Rights groups eye jailed Tamil ex-rebel
A renegade former commander of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels has been jailed for identity fraud in the UK. The BBC's Jill McGivering watched Col Karuna's sentencing and asked human rights groups for their reaction.

Isleworth Crown Court is an unimpressive modern building, set midway down a leafy residential street in suburban London.

Col Karuna
Colonel Karuna broke with the Tamil Tigers rebels in 2004

But on Friday, court number three was attracting an unusual amount of media attention.

Outside, passers-by were stopping to ask questions about the unfamiliar sight of a TV camera crew. Inside, the two rows of government seats that constitute the public gallery in the court were full.

The defendant, Col Karuna, sat impassively behind a thick dividing wall of protective glass. He was close-shaven, his hair closely cropped.

As well as metal-rimmed spectacles, he was wearing a striped polo shirt. He stared straight ahead throughout the proceedings.

He had already pleaded guilty to the charge of possessing a false diplomatic passport. The court was told that it was a six-month multiple visit visa, valid from 5 September 2007, which carried his photograph but not his name or personal details.

'Serious matter'

The court heard details of Col Karuna's earlier statement to police. He wanted to come to the UK because his wife and children were living here, he had said.

He said the Sri Lankan government gave him the passport. Sri Lanka's defence secretary, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, arranged everything for him, he told police.

It would be tragic if he were allowed to leave, whether he left voluntarily or was ultimately deported, without there first having been a proper investigation
Kevin Laue
Lawyer with Redress

The Sri Lankan government denies any involvement.

Col Karuna's visa application stated that he was coming to the UK to attend a wildlife convention. When the police asked Col Karuna about that, he told them he knew nothing about the application.

When it came to passing sentence, the judge said it was not necessary or appropriate for him to go into the details of Col Karuna's story.

The offence related to the fact he was in possession of a false passport - and he had pleaded guilty to that.

The judge said he would take into account that fact Col Karuna had already spent six weeks in detention under the immigration authorities, as well as another 32 days in police custody since he was charged with the offence on 24 December.

This was a serious matter, the judge added, which must attract a prison sentence. Col Karuna, standing while the sentence of nine months' imprisonment was passed, remained expressionless.

Future uncertain

A team of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Redress, are calling on the British authorities to prosecute Col Karuna for human rights abuses, including acts of torture and the abduction of children to serve as soldiers.

Soldier loyal to Col Karuna guarding checkpoint
Sri Lanka's government denies aiding Col Karuna's faction

Human Rights Watch recently described him as "one of the top individuals in Sri Lanka who have been responsible for human rights abuses in that country".

Kevin Laue, a lawyer with "Redress", an organisation which seeks reparation for victims of torture, said he was pleased with the sentence - because it gives the UK authorities - and human rights activists - longer to investigate the need for further charges against him.

"This means he won't be leaving the UK any time soon and gives the police more time to investigate," he said.

He pointed to the serious nature of the allegations against Col Karuna, saying he hoped the UK authorities would take the opportunity now presented to them.

"Now there's an opportunity, someone has come into this country," he said. "He's here.

"We don't have to bring him here or go out and catch him or anything and it would be tragic if he were allowed to leave, whether he left voluntarily or was ultimately deported, without there first having been a proper investigation."

It is unclear what will happen to Col Karuna when he comes to the end of his sentence.

He could be detained by immigration while his right to remain in the UK is decided.

After the court session, his defence lawyer, David Phillips, told the BBC that he expected Col Karuna would make a formal application for asylum in the UK.

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