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January 9, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka on Saturday released more than 700 former Tamil Tiger fighters from military custody following a rehabilitation program, an official said. The Tamil Tigers, who fought for a separate homeland from 1972, were defeated by Sri Lankan troops in mid-May when the military killed the top guerrilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is touring the northern town of Vavuniya, handed over the ex-combatants to their immediate relatives, an army officer involved in the rehabilitation, Major General Daya Ratnayake, said.

“Out of some 12,000 Tiger combatants who are undergoing vocational training we have identified about 800 who had very minimal involvement with the Tiger movement,” he added.

He said 713 out of the 800 identified for release were given over to their parents on Saturday while the others too would be freed soon.

Some of the Tiger rebels surrendered to security forces while others were arrested from among nearly 300,000 war-displaced civilians who moved into state-run internment camps during the final stages of fighting last year.

About a third of ex-rebels are being trained in plumbing, masonr