Lanka denies holding Tamil political prisoners

Colombo: Sri Lankan government today said there were no Tamil "political prisoners" in the country and announced high courts would be set up to expedite pending cases against those detained for suspected acts of terrorism. The announcement came a day after main Tamil party TNA demanded release of all "political prisoners".

"We are not holding any political prisoners. Those who are currently in detention and in remand are those who were connected to LTTE`s acts of terrorism," said Nimal Siripala de Silva, a senior minister and the leader of the house. The minister said as remedial measures high courts will be set up in Colombo, Anuradhapura and Vavuniya and Mannar in the north within one month to expedite cases.

A special task force is to be set up within a month to clear the backlog of cases piled up with the attorney general. He said all LTTE suspects under custody at present are either suspected of involvement in terrorist activities or those who have been granted charge sheets by the courts. There were 359 LTTE suspects in protective custody while another 309 await indictment. De Silva was responding to a statement made yesterday by TNA leader R Sampanthan urging the government to take immediate steps to release all Tamil "political prisoners".

Sampanthan said there were 234 Tamil political prisoners who were on a hunger strike urging action to expedite cases against them. "The prisoners have refused to call off their fast stating that several assurances given in the past have not been kept and that this time they are determined to fast unto death," Sampanthan said.