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Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 16:48 UK

'Tamil unit' for Sri Lanka's army

Sri Lankan army commandos march during a special felicitation parade for all military regiments who took part in the recent battle against Tamil Tigers, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, May 28
Sri Lanka has said it is expanding its armed forces

Sri Lanka's army is to establish an ethnic Tamil regiment for the first time, the minister for national reconciliation has told the BBC.

Vinyagamoorthi Muralitharan, who defected from Tamil rebels to ally with the government, said the army chief told him of the plan a few days ago.

He said that hundreds of cadres from his militia had already joined up.

Sri Lanka is expanding its army although it recently declared victory in its civil war with Tamil rebels.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought a bloody war for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority for 26 years.

In May the government declared victory over the rebels after they cornered them in a narrow strip of land on Sri Lanka's north-eastern coast.

Mr Muralitharan - better known as Col Karuna - was a senior commander in the LTTE before defecting from them in 2004. He subsequently formed a paramilitary group Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal party (TMVP), which primarily operated in the east of the country.

"Six hundred cadres out of 900 have already joined the army. [The] rest of my cadres are currently staying in military camps. I hope all of them will join the army once their paperwork is completed," he told the BBC's Sinhala service.

Paramilitary

He said that some of his former cadres might even be appointed as officers.

Vinyagamoorthi Muralitharan (left) is sworn in by President Rajapksa
Mr Muralitharan (left) was made a government minister in March 2009

"It seems they will only be stationed in the east at the moment. There is no need to send them to other areas as the war is now over. It is possible that youth from the east will serve in camps in the east," he said.

The TMVP was initially a paramilitary group but was registered as a political party.

Mr Muralitharan became an MP with Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance.

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

The current TMVP chief minister of the eastern province, Chandrakanthan, told the BBC's Sinhala service that his cadres were not interested in joining the military.

"There was an option for them [the cadres] to join the army or police but only less than 10 people came forward," Mr Chandrakanthan, also known as Pillayan, said.



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