Vancouver, Nov 15 (AP) Sri Lanka’s defense minister has denied that his country committed torture and rape of suspected rebels, as charged by more than 50 men of the island’s Tamil ethnic minority who are seeking political asylum in Europe.

Kapila Waidyaratne called the claims of abuses “baseless and unfounded.”

“The government of Sri Lanka is for zero tolerance with regard to sexual abuse and so on,” Waidyaratne told The Associated Press as he attended the UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial conference in Vancouver.

The allegations came in a November 8 report by the AP on the asylum seekers and their claims of being abducted and tortured by Sri Lanka’s current government. The Tamils said they were raped, branded or beaten repeatedly.

The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and interviewed 20 men.

The men said they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or Tamil Tigers, which was on the losing side of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Fighting ended eight years ago, but the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as this past July, the men said.

Doctors, psychologists, lawmakers and rights groups have appealed to the United Nations to investigate the new allegations.

US Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees US foreign aid, last week called the allegations troubling and noted that the US Senate Appropriations Committee has conditioned aid to Sri Lanka on its compliance with international standards for arrest and detention.

“These accounts of torture are horrific and contradict the Sri Lankan government’s professed commitment to reconciliation and justice,” Leahy said, adding, “I will be looking for convincing evidence that torture has ended and those responsible are being punished.”

Waidyaratne said Sri Lanka’s government has investigated all allegations. “The investigations that have been carried out have been concluded and closed,” he said. But it wasn’t clear whether he referred to the latest charges or previous cases.

The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, which Sri Lanka has said is no longer a threat.

Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.(AP) AMS

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.