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 Post subject: Under fire, under siege: Hard time Sri Lanka style
 Post Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2006 1:09 am 
Sri lankan prisoners in war front
Under fire, under siege: Hard time Sri Lanka style

Fri Sep 22, 2006 7:09 AM ET
@ Today Reuters By Simon Gardner


Sri Lanka has sent 100 prisoners convicted of petty crimes to Jaffna to help the military unload emergency food supplies. "They are happy here. We are even paying them 5,000 rupees ($50) each a month." The prisoners live alongside troops at this military base in a high security zone off limits to civilians. "Without the prisoners' consent, we don't send them," said island's acting prisons chief. "They are given the same facilities, food and lodging as the army soldiers." "The military have made a request from us to send more prisoners to Palali to do agriculture," he added.

KANKASANTURAI, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Besieged by Tamil Tiger artillery fire and surrounded by 40,000 troops in what must be the world's most heavily guarded jail, hard time has taken on a new meaning for jailbirds in north Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's prisons chief has sent 100 prisoners convicted of petty crimes to help the military unload emergency food supplies shipped to the northern Jaffna peninsula, the site of the worst fighting since a 2002 truce..

"The original plan was for them to work on a farm because we had a manpower problem, but now we are using them to load and unload supplies," said Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri.

"They are happy here. We are even paying them 5,000 rupees ($50) each a month."

The prisoners live alongside troops at this military base in a high security zone off limits to civilians and peppered with the ruins of homes flattened by years of past shelling and the 2004 tsunami.

The only escape routes to the rest of Sri Lanka are across a heavily mined no-man's land that separates Jaffna from Tamil Tiger territory or by sea -- which would mean braving the feared Sea Tiger rebel maritime wing and Navy fast attack boats.

"Without the prisoners' consent, we don't send them," said Kuruppu Gunaratne, the island's acting prisons chief. "They are given the same facilities, food and lodging as the army soldiers."

"The military have made a request from us to send more prisoners to Palali (military base in Jaffna) to do agriculture," he added.

But the prisoners -- all of whom have less than a year left to serve -- are also living and working in a battleground. Dozens of troops and rebels have been killed on the peninsula during weeks of fierce fighting and rights groups are shocked.

"You can't move prisoners to a war zone. This is basically a violation of the Geneva convention," said Bijo Francis, a programme officer at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

"Here prisoners are being moved from a place where they are relatively safe to a place where they are under artillery fire, which means that the government is disregarding their rights. They are exposing them to more danger."


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