Sri Lanka arrests France-bound woman over rebel links

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A former Tamil rebel was arrested at Sri Lanka’s main international airport as she was returning to her home in France, along with her eight-year-old daughter who is a French national, police said on Wednesday.

Murugesu Jayaganesh Pakeerathy, 41, was arrested on Monday before a magistrate ordered her detained for 72 hours pending investigations by an anti-terrorism unit, said police spokesman Ajith Rohana.

He said the woman was being held at the police Terrorist Investigation Department and her daughter was allowed to stay with her.

“If the mother agrees, the daughter can be handed over to a guardian,” Rohana said. “The daughter is not a suspect nor has she been arrested.”

The French embassy was providing consular assistance but gave no further details.

Police said the mother was believed to have been a leader of the Sea Tigers, the naval unit of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She had been an active combatant between 1997 and 2000, Rohana said.

She had left the island in 2005, four years before the LTTE was crushed by troops in the bloody finale to a 37-year separatist conflict.

Rohana said she returned to Sri Lanka last month and had been visiting relatives in the northern town of Paranthan, just south of the northern peninsula of Jaffna which was once the LTTE heartland.

Her arrest comes despite an announcement by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena that it would launch a fresh ethnic reconciliation process with the help of the international community.

Sirisena has also agreed to probe allegations that troops killed some 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war in 2009, when Mahinda Rajapakse was president.

On Tuesday a senior United Nations official urged Sirisena immediately to release Tamil detainees and demilitarise former conflict areas to build confidence before a fresh probe into alleged war crimes.