Tamil Tigers join Sri Lanka shooting squad

Sri Lanka has recruited 16 former Tamil Tiger rebels -- including four rifle shooters -- to represent the country at a regional sporting event, an official said on Saturday.

The athletes were in training ahead of next year's South Asian games in India, sports ministry spokesman Harsha Abeykoon said.

Some 135 former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had shown interest in joining national sports squads, he said, and the selection -- including two women -- was made last month.

"We found 16 former Tamil Tiger rebels who could be trained to come up to national level standard and represent the country," Abeykoon told AFP.

"We have got four for rifle shooting, four for swimming, four for softball and the other four for athletics. They were undergoing government-sponsored rehabilitation when we picked them."

Some of the group had been members of the LTTE's dreaded Sea Tiger unit, whose suicide attackers destroyed dozens of naval vessels during the rebels' campaign for an independent homeland in the island's north-east.

The Tigers were crushed by security forces in a no-holds-barred offensive that ended in May 2009 and thousands of insurgents were captured or surrendered.

The government maintains that most of the surrendered rebels have been freed after "rehabilitation", but rights groups say that thousands remain in custody without being formally charged.

The Tamil separatist conflict is estimated to have cost at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, according to UN estimates.

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