Sri Lanka's Tamil refugees returning from India in small batches

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who fled to neighboring India to escape a brutal civil war are returning to the island on their own in small batches, a news report said Monday. 

Twenty-one refugees returned Sunday to northern Jaffna Peninsula, the traditional home of most of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils. Thirteen others returned Friday, the TamilNet Web site reported. 

"They are natives of Jaffna district and fled to south India due to military operations by Sri Lankan security forces,'' said TamilNet, which reports on Tamil affairs. 

"More Sri Lankan Tamil refugees ... are getting ready to return to Jaffna district in the coming days.'' 

Sri Lanka and India are separated by the 48-kilometer (30-mile) Park Strait. 

There are between 65,000 to 70,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in 105 camps in India's Tamil Nadu state. Some have been living there since the island's civil war started in 1983. 

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels say that the war-affected north and east needs reconstruction and only then should the refugees return. But some of the refugees have apparently ignored the rebel stand. 

The rebels, who have fought for a separate state for Tamils, pulled out of Norwegian-brokered peace talks in April, accusing the government of not doing enough to rebuild the northeast and help resettle refugees. 

The rebels want to control an interim administration in the area, which would give them legal status and allow them to accept foreign aid and help in reconstruction. 

The Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government signed a cease-fire agreement in February 2002 that halted the war, which has killed 65,000 people. 

During the peace talks, the Tigers have up their demand for an independent Tamil homeland. - AP 

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