Sri Lanka Frees 345 Tamils Under Peace Accord
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The government freed 345 more Tamil detainees Saturday under a peace plan aimed at ending the 4-year-old revolt by Tamil separatists, state-run radio reported.
Another 600 Tamil prisoners will be released Wednesday, the broadcast said, quoting unidentified National Security Ministry officials.
The latest release brought the number of Tamil prisoners freed since the Indian-brokered peace accord was signed July 29 to at least 1,593.
Also Saturday, a government official said U.S. Ambassador James W. Spain will visit the war-torn Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka Monday with Education Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The object of the visit is to assess damage sustained by the region’s schools in the Tamil insurgency, said Elmo Gooneratne, senior assistant education secretary.
He said the two largest schools in the area, Jaffna College and St. Patrick’s College, were built by American missionaries and it was possible the U.S. government or American religious groups could donate money to rebuild them, now that the peace pact is in effect.
More than 5,000 Tamils were believed to be in Sri Lankan prisons when Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the peace accord.
The pact calls for Tamils to surrender their weapons, for India to guarantee the accord and Sri Lanka to release the Tamil prisoners. Provinces in northern and eastern Sri Lanka where Tamils are in the majority are to be given some autonomy.
Officials say the release of prisoners has been slow because the surrender of arms by the rebels has been erratic.
Indian diplomats here said Tamil separatists turned in about 70 percent of their weapons, but Sri Lankan officials put the figure at about 40 percent and said many Tamils are keeping their handguns.
Militant Tamils began fighting in 1983 for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka’s North and East provinces. They said the predominantly Hindu Tamils, who make up for about 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 16 million people, are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists.
More than 6,000 people have been slain in the conflict, according to various sources.