Saturday, May 30, 2009

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka | The parents of the Tamil Tigers’ slain rebel chief have been found in a government-run displacement camp and will be separated from the others there for their safety, the Sri Lankan military said Friday.

The government announced last week that it killed Velupillai Prabhakaran and many of his top commanders to end the island nation’s 25-year separatist war. The military said it identified the bodies of Mr. Prabhakaran and his son, who was also a fighter, but the whereabouts of his wife, daughter and a second son are not known.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the leader’s parents, Thiruvenkadam and Parvathi Velupillai, were living in a camp for people displaced from fighting in northern Vavuniya town.

Brig. Nanayakkara said the couple, now in their 70s, were in good health and “will be separated for their safety.” He did not say how they may have been threatened.

On Thursday, the military announced it had proven through DNA testing that Mr. Prabhakaran was killed, even though his supporters have largely refused to believe a government video showing his corpse.

Mr. Prabhakaran’s parents had lived mostly in India since the civil war broke out and returned after a Norway-brokered peace process in 2002.

According to the United Nations, 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka’s civil war and about 280,000 people were displaced and are living in government-run camps.

Also Friday, a visiting U.S. congressman urged authorities to give journalists complete access to the displacement camps and to quickly resettle people in their native villages.

After a visit to the camps in Vavuniya, Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, commended the government and aid agencies for helping the war victims but said “openness and transparency [are] very, very important.”

Neil Buhne, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Sri Lanka, told reporters Friday that authorities have relaxed some restrictions on aid group vehicles entering camp sites but that negotiations were still under way to have the “level of access that we need.”

Mr. Buhne said the large number of displaced people in crowded camps was a “significant humanitarian emergency.”

Meanwhile, the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders expressed concern over statements by Sri Lankan authorities that they plan to prosecute journalists who traveled to rebel-held regions before the latest phase of the war broke out.

The group also urged the government to allow journalists to work inside displacement camps.

“The war is over. There is no longer any reason for the army to impose so many restrictions on media working in the Tamil areas, including restrictions on access to refugee camps,” the group said.

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