Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Breakaway Tamil Tigers 'disarm'

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala service

Col Karuna shortly after splitting from the Tamil Tigers

A breakaway group of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers will be disarmed within months and integrated into the security forces, its leader has announced.

Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan, widely known as Colonel Karuna, said that the rehabilitation of former cadres under his command had already begun.

The former senior Tamil Tiger leader broke away from the rebels in 2004.

It was a major setback to the rebel movement and contributed to their loss of control of the east in 2007.

If the rehabilitation process is fully implemented, it will be the first time in Sri Lanka that a group which took up arms against the state is integrated into the state security establishment.

Paramilitary group

"I talked with the defence secretary several times," Col Karuna, who is the leader of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) party, told the BBC Sinhala Service.

"We made a plan for that. I think the initial work for nearly 300 cadres to be recruited to the security forces has already begun. If they have any qualification they can join police - others can join the Civil Defence Force (CDF)."

The former senior Tamil Tiger leader is now a member of parliament in President Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance.

Col Karuna did not reveal the current armed strength of the TMVP - but at the time of his defection he said that more than 6,000 fighters had accompanied him.

The TMVP was initially a paramilitary group but was registered as a political party while he was serving a prison sentence for immigration offences in the UK.

The deputy leader of the TMVP, Sivanesthurai Chandrakanthan, was appointed as the chief minister of the eastern province after elections earlier this year.

"I don't think we need weapons or armed cadres any longer. We are a political party now. All our leaders have entered the democratic process and we all get security provided from the government," Col Karuna said.

He said that a thorough screening process would be put in place to prevent Tamil Tigers infiltrating the security forces and stressed that there are no plans at present to recruit former rebels to the armed forces.

Despite joining the political process, the TMVP has been regularly accused of human rights violations - including child recruitment and abductions - by the United Nations and international human rights groups.

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