Sri Lankan drug raids net 24,000

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lankan authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people in a monthlong crackdown on drugs and vowed to continue despite U.N. criticism of possible human rights violations during the "heavy-handed" operation.

Since the operation began in December, heavily armed police and military personnel with sniffer dogs have made regular nighttime raids on homes and searched buses, seizing narcotics and arresting suspects including drug users, local dealers and distributors and people with records of drug-related arrests.

Acting police chief Deshabandu Tennakoon told The Associated Press on Thursday that more than 40,000 people have been arrested and questioned during operations conducted jointly by the police and security forces, and 5,000 were ordered detained by the courts.

The country of 21 million has long been known as a hub for drug trafficking, but authorities have stepped up action against narcotics amid complaints that more schoolchildren are using drugs and that drug-related crimes are on the rise.

Tennakoon said 65% of Sri Lanka's narcotics distribution network has been dismantled over the past month and police hope to eliminate it fully by the end of this month.

He added that intelligence operations are being conducted to identify people who import drugs into the country and those who may be planning to start dealing drugs.

The U.N. human rights council expressed concern last week over reports of unauthorized searches, arbitrary arrests, torture and even strip searches in public during the operations, code-named "yukthiya," or justice.

"While drug use presents a serious challenge to society, a heavy-handed law enforcement approach is not the solution. Abuse of drugs and the factors that lead to it are first and foremost public health and social issues," the U.N. body said.

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles insisted that the searches will continue, saying the human rights body should identify specific instances of abuse.

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