The Sri Lankan military on Friday released a batch of 712 suspected LTTE cadres undergoing rehabilitation at various centres.

Army spokesperson Udaya Nanyakkara said the rehabilitated suspects, currently housed in various rehabilitation centres, were only connected to minor crimes and the government had decided to release them. Some of them were minors when conscripted by the LTTE during Eelam War IV (July 2006 to May 2009).

On Thursday, Chief Magistrate of Colombo Champak Janaki Rajaratne turned down a request by the Investigations Division for permission to screen the suspects before their release.

Meanwhile, the two main contenders in the January 26 presidential election, incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and the opposition consensus candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka, intensified their campaigns.

The fast changing political scenario in the run up to the poll has undoubtedly made it a tough fight for the incumbent President since both the chief contenders for the top office not only represent the majority Sinhalese community but are also credited with the successful military campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

In the evolving situation, Tamil and Muslim voters could play a crucial role in the outcome of the election and observers are concerned over the growing reckless nature of charges being traded.

The unpleasant nature of the campaign was evident in a report posted on the Department of Information website (www.news.lk). It read: “The much awaited sensational political debate on a private television scheduled last night on the alleged fraudulent arm deals involving retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka ended on an inconclusive note plunging millions of enthusiastic viewers into sadness.”

“Appearing on behalf of Gen. Fonseka, UNP parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara opposed the presence of two government members saying he came for a one to one debate with a government member.”

Mr. Rajapaksa was quoted as saying that no one should be permitted to betray the country liberated by risking and sacrificing many lives. The President said the nation had been divided based on caste, creed and religion. The forces made an untiring effort and succeeded in uniting such a society. “This major task was achieved sacrificing 27,000 lives,” he said.

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