LTTE chief faces arrest?

Colombo. Nov. 13. The leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V. Prabakaran, became the first person to be sentenced by a Sri Lankan court for 200 years and the second militant leader to be sentenced in absentia, according to legal sources.

On an earlier occasion the late Uma Maheswaran, was sentenced in absentia to a 15-year jail term for his involvement in a bank robbery during the early days of Tamil militancy. Uma Maheswaran, the first chairman of the LTTE, was expelled from the organisation in 1979 and went on to form the People's Liberation Organisation for Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in 1982.

He was shot dead by one of his bodyguards in 1990.

While there have been other cases of in absentia sentencing in Sri Lanka, these two are among the more high-profile cases involving Tamil militants.

Another instance when a sentence was pronounced without the presence of the convict was when two persons allegedly involved in the 1971 insurgency by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were sentenced to life imprisonment after their death. ``The 200-year RI on Prabakaran is the highest term given by a Sri Lankan court'', a leading criminal lawyer said.

The direct consequences of this sentence, according to sources, is that despite the lifting of the domestic ban on the Tigers, its leader would not be able to surface without facing arrest. In India the LTTE leader has been declared a ``proclaimed offender'' in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

``Legally, whenever he is seen by a person who is empowered to make an arrest, he can be sent to jail directly in the absence of an appeal'', legal sources said. However, according to another legal opinion, it would not be possible to arrest the international facilitators who meet him, as they enjoy sovereign immunity.

The sentence, which was made when the second round of talks were on between the Tigers and Colombo, came under sharp criticism by the LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham. Taking the position that both the Government and the Tigers were involved in a conflict, Mr. Balasingham retaliated by saying that the `courts' in LTTE-held areas could pull up those from the Government involved in the war, get them tried for ``war crimes'' and get them jailed for ``2000 years''.

The Government and the rebels have maintained that the 200-year sentence will not hamper the ongoing peace talks, but the LTTE said that the timing of the verdict affected the spirit of the negotiations.

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