Malaysia slammed for deporting Sri Lanka refugees

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An international rights group on Wednesday slammed Malaysia for deporting three suspected Sri Lankan militants, saying they risk being tortured.

Malaysian police say the three men were detained May 15 for allegedly trying to revive the Tamil Tiger separatist group, which was defeated five years ago to end Sri Lanka's long civil war.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the men were deported Sunday without any public evidence of militant links. Two of the men have refugee cards issued by the United Nations refugee agency, which is also processing the claim of the third man for refugee status, the group said.

It said the deportation took place amid recent intensified security operations in Tamil-dominated areas of Sri Lanka by the government that have led to scores of arrests and several deaths.

Sri Lankan authorities have denounced the three men as Tamil Tiger supporters, heightening concerns that they could face torture, Human Rights Watch said. The group said it previously documented 75 cases of torture by Sri Lankan authorities against suspected rebel supporters.

"Malaysia's forced return of these refugees to Sri Lanka is no free pass for torture and mistreatment," said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director. "Governments can't just pick and choose when to protect refugees. Malaysia seemed more interested in burnishing its ties with Sri Lanka than honoring its obligation to protect refugees from possible persecution and torture."

Sri Lanka's quarter-century civil war ended in May 2009 after government forces defeated the Tamil Tigers, who were fighting to create a separate state for ethnic Tamils in the northern and eastern regions. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in the conflict.

Malaysian police said the men, who came to Malaysia in 2004, were suspected of using the country as their base to spread the group's propaganda and collect funds for their activities.

Malaysia has been stepping up an anti-terror sweep, with 16 suspected militants detained since late April.