COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's government on Friday released nearly 1,800 former Tamil Tiger rebels who had been held since the island nation's civil war ended more than two years ago.
The former combatants — among about 11,000 Tamil Tigers who surrendered at the end of the war in May 2009 — were held in military-run rehabilitation centers, where they underwent vocational training. The military says about 1,000 remain in centers.
Sri Lanka has come under pressure from rights groups and other countries to either charge the detainees or release them.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over the former rebels to their families at a ceremony at an auditorium in his office complex.
"I am happy to get back my child, who is my only son," said Subramanium Rasalingam, 60, the father of Sudhakaran, 34, who was with the rebel group for more than a decade. "I can't express my happiness."
Rajapaksa said those who were released had been rehabilitated according to accepted international norms and standards, and that they had been trained in masonry, carpentry, tailoring and agriculture. "We have made you a person worthwhile to society," he told them.
"You are now free to go anywhere and will be entitled to all the rights enjoyed by the fellow citizens," he said.
Rajapaksa said the government would try to create job opportunities for them.
Kandasamy Nagarupan, 28, who fought with the Tamil rebels for about one year, said he was forcefully recruited by the rebel group and that at the end of the war, he surrendered to the army.
"I am delighted to go back to my village and be with my family. I learned masonry at the rehabilitation center and I am confident that I will be able to find some job in my area," said Nagarupan, who is from Kilinochchi, the rebels' former de facto capital.
Another rebel fighter, who declined to give his name, said he was captured by soldiers during a fight in 2008. He also said that he had been forcefully recruited by the rebels, and that he tried to escape several times.
He said he was trained in agriculture at the rehabilitation center and plans to cultivate his land.
During the last phase of the war, the Tamil rebels were accused of forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, to their fighting units, as well as holding civilians as human shields and shooting civilians attempting to flee their grip.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are believed to have been killed in the 25-year war. According to U.N. documents, at least 7,000 were killed in the last five months of the fighting.
Sri Lanka has been under increasing international pressure to allow for an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations by both troops and rebels, which a U.N. experts panel said could amount to war crimes.