COLOMBO AFP— The Sri Lankan government has said its troops collected more than four million dollars worth of gold jewellery during the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Chief government whip Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Wednesday that security forces picked up the precious items during the final months of the decades-long civil war last year.
“The army’s 58th division and the military police found 110 kilos of gold jewellery. The value of the jewellery is about 490 million rupees (4.4 million dollars),” Gunawardena said.
The haul “was being legally handed over to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka,” he said, without giving further details.
The Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC), a Tamil rights group, said the government should trace owners and return all the goods.
“We don’t know where the military found this jewellery, but what is clear is that it belongs to Tamil civilians,” CMC chief Mano Ganeshan told AFP.
“Even if the military seized it from rebel-run banks, the rightful owners are Tamil civilians and they should get their property back.”
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians were displaced during fighting between government forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Many left their valuables behind as they fled.
The government claimed victory over the rebels in May after killing their leaders in a military onslaught that sparked widespread international criticism.
After the war, displaced civilians were held in internment camps guarded by troops before being allowed their freedom.
The government has appointed a panel to probe the failure of a Norwegian-arranged 2002 ceasefire, but resisted calls for an independent investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by troops and Tamil rebels.
Government urged to return gold
BBC-A Sri Lankan politician has demanded that the government return gold and jewels seized during the final stages of the war against Tamil Tiger rebels last year.
Mano Ganesan's demand comes after the government reportedly disclosed details about gold jewels "collected" by the army in the Wanni region.
Reports say the jewels weighed 110kg and were valued at about $4.4m.
They have been handed over to the country's Central Bank, reports say.Ganesan, who also leads a civil rights group, has demanded return of the jewels to the rightful owners, after proper verification.He told BBC Tamil that the jewels "must have been picked up from the 'bank' run by the Tamil Tigers".
Tamil people, especially the poor, had reportedly pledged their jewels with a bank run by the Tigers for their emergency needs, he said.
He said the government had detained nearly 8,000 former rebels and leaders, including those who ran the "bank".
Ganesan said the government could also ask displaced Tamil people in the resettled areas and camps to determine the number of people who have lost their jewels during the war.