Security forces have identified 2,377 "legitimate claimants" and 25 of them were handed back their gold ornaments by President Mahinda Rajapakse, who visited the island's northern province at the weekend, the military said in a statement. It asked residents in the island's battle-scarred region to lodge claims with the military and said pawning receipts issued by the Tamil Tigers would also be accepted as proof of ownership.
At the height of their power, the Tigers operated a banking system where they accepted jewellery as security and granted loans to civilians. The military says they found the gold abandoned in the conflict area. Where owners could not be found, the valuables would be handed over to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the military said.
"In order to expedite the process for return of remaining jewellery under safe keeping, civilians who still posses any LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ) issued documents... are encouraged," to lodge claims, the statement said. It did not say how much of jewellery was in military custody, but the government had said soon after the end of the war that some 110 kilos of jewellery had been recovered from the battle zone by one unit of the military alone.
Tamil political parties have pressed for the return of jewellery as well as other valuables of some 300,000 Tamil civilians who were driven out of their homes in the final stages of the war. Sri Lanka declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed after crushing the Tigers in May 2009, but the military campaign has also triggered allegations that some 40,000 civilians were killed by troops, a charge the government has vehemently denied.
Sri Lanka faces a UN Human Rights Council mandated investigation into its war record, but Colombo has said it will not cooperate with any international probe, but has asked a local panel to investigate.