Rights groups push UK to charge ex-Sri Lanka Tiger

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LONDON, Nov 5 (Reuters) Rights groups pushed today for ex-Sri Lankan rebel Karuna Amman to be charged with war crimes in Britain where he is detained by immigration authorities, fearing he could be deported back home within days.

Karuna is accused by rights experts of a string of abuses both before and after his 2004 split from the mainstream Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) including torture, killings and the abduction of children to act as soldiers.

''Amnesty is assessing legal routes available to ensure that an enquiry into the allegations of human rights abuses by Karuna is initiated by the UK government,'' a South Asian researcher for rights group Amnesty International told Reuters.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has also asked that Britain look at charging the former rebel, long a prominent figure in the war between the ethnic Tamil rebels and Sri Lanka's government.

The Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers said it was looking at options, as were members of London's ethnic Tamil community -- including those linked to the mainstream Tigers -- worried the ex-rebel might be deported within days and evade any possible prosecution.

''It is something we are looking at very hard,'' said one rights worker. ''It would be galling to see him go.'' Rights experts say Britain has signed international torture conventions that might provide a means of charging him. Several groups said their lawyers would be holding meetings all day.

Britain's Home Office confirmed on Friday that Karuna had been detained following a joint operation by immigration authorities and London police. A spokeswoman said policy was to deport foreign criminals.

SENDING CRIMINALS HOME ''We have made it perfectly clear that we will robustly pursue the removal from the UK of serious criminals and those whose presence is not conducive to the national good,'' she said.

''We do not go into detail about individual cases.'' Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kahona said his government was happy for British law to take its course, but that there were no charges against Karuna on the island.

Analysts and diplomats say Sri Lanka has been using Karuna as a proxy force to fight the rebels and aid workers say security forces did nothing to interfere with his actions.

Karuna was accused of numerous abuses when he was the Tiger eastern commander, and even before a 2002 ceasefire collapsed into open warfare last year his fighters and the LTTE were locked in a brutal conflict of abductions and killings.

Tortured bodies were often dumped by the side of the road, hands tied behind backs and bullets in the head. The violence was seen as a factor in pushing Sri Lanka back into a civil war that has now killed some 70,000 people.

The government and Karuna have long denied any links with each other, and Karuna's political group the TMVP accused the Tigers of carrying out kidnapping and extortion in their name to blacken their image.

But there have been widespread reports of a split in his group, which the United Nations says, like the mainstream Tigers, continues to abduct children, including in areas of the east retaken from the LTTE this year by government forces.

REUTERS NC RK2129

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