Sri Lanka tracking escapees

Police and the military in Sri Lanka are conducting a nationwide manhunt for 44 political prisoners who escaped from Batticaloa prison Friday night with 168 other inmates.

The well-planned escape is believed to have been orchestrated by a radical terrorist group, the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, government intelligence sources said. All 44 escapees are members of the group, police added, while other political inmates left behind belong to rival radical factions, Monitor contributor Ellen Goldberg reports.

At present, scores of political prisoners are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or under emergency regulations imposed by the government in the wake of July's communal clashes between minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese.

At the height of the violence, 54 Tamil inmates were murdered by fellow prisoners at Welikada jail in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. After this incident, all political detainees were transferred to the 100-year-old maximum-security prison at Batticaloa, on the island's east coast.

As of Sunday, more than 50 escapees from the breakout had been apprehended, some having surrendered to police. None of the captured prisoners were political detainees, however. Intelligence sources speculate that the suspected terrorists have fled to South India by boat.

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