Suspected Tamil rebels shot dead in Sri Lanka

The abandoned devastation is seen in this aerial photo showing part of the former conflict zone on the north east coast of Sri Lanka, Saturday, May 23, 2009 Sri Lanka's army defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the country in 2009

The army in Sri Lanka says it has shot dead three men who were trying to revive the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), the separatist rebel group crushed by the military in 2009.

It says they were taking instructions from two LTTE leaders based in Europe.

The reported incident, if true, is the first substantial military encounter since the end of the war.

But civil society campaigners have cast doubt on whether there is any such revival of the separatist rebels.

The authorities say they have arrested dozens of people in connection with the alleged bid to relaunch the Tigers.

The military says it believes the three who died were the same three that it described as wanted men in the past few weeks.

In a statement, its spokesman, Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya, said the armed men had been shot dead by troops early on Friday when they tried to escape a jungle area where they were surrounded.

Campaigner held

He said the military had acted on information from local people opposed to the revival of the LTTE.

He named the three as Sundaralingam Kajeepan alias Thevihan, Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gobi and Navaratnam Navaneethan alias Appan.

The shooting, he said, happened near Padaviya, just outside the island's northern province, although earlier he gave the location as Nedunkerni in the northern Vavuniya district.

The name Gobi has been in the news for several weeks but the facts surrounding him remain disputed.

The authorities say Tamil diaspora groups mandated him to lead a Tiger revival. They say he shot and wounded a policeman while evading arrest near Kilinochchi last month.

They arrested a woman, Jeyakumari Balendran, whom they accused of harbouring him.

Ms Balendran - a campaigner on political disappearances who says her own 15-year-old son was abducted by the state - denies having sheltered Gobi, saying he was a stranger and had intruded on her home pursued by the security forces.

She is incarcerated in a high-security jail under anti-terror laws while her young daughter - and fellow campaigner - is in care.

Earlier this week the Tamil newspaper Uthayan said Gobi had already been arrested and brought to Colombo. But the authorities denied it.

There has been a notable increase in arrests and security searches in northern Sri Lanka and some detentions in Colombo. On Thursday the police acknowledged having arrested 60 people, 10 of them women, in recent weeks.

A lawyer for Ms Balendran, K S Ratnavale, said that with the reported death of Gobi his client should be released from detention, as should three other women he says are being "kept as hostages in his place" - one woman said to be his wife, one said to be his mother and her medical attendant.

Although campaigners doubt there is an LTTE revival under way, the government maintains it is a real threat.

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