The United Nations refugee agency and Human Rights Watch have criticised Malaysia's deportation of two Sri Lankan refugees and an asylum-seeker accused of being Tamil Tiger separatists.

Malaysian authorities sent the three men back to Sri Lanka on Monday after arresting them on May 15 on suspicion of involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group (LTTE), a rebel group that was defeated by the Sri Lankan forces in 2009.

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According to Sri Lankan newspaper, The Daily Newsthe three men, Sangaliraj Gioshanthan, Mahadevan Kiribakaran and Selvthurai Kiribavan, were brought to the island nation on Tuesday and their names were announced by the police at a press conference the same day.

The newspaper said that the men, believed to be LTTE leaders, were currently being detained until the investigation was completed.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it regretted the deportation without being given access to the men, who were registered with the agency.

"UNHCR is ... deeply concerned that these deportations took place without the office being given an adequate opportunity to assess these security issues and the refugees' entitlement to ongoing refugee protection," UNHCR Malaysia spokeswoman, Yante Ismail, told the AFP news agency.

Grave risk

New York-based HRW also urged Sri Lankan authorities to ensure the safety of the three, saying they were at "grave risk" and could face torture.

"Malaysia's forced return of these refugees to Sri Lanka is no free pass for torture and mistreatment," Phil Robertson, the rights group's deputy Asia director, said in a statement. "Malaysia seemed more interested in burnishing its ties with Sri Lanka than honouring its obligation to protect refugees from possible persecution and torture."

Meanwhile, The Malaysian Insider, a local bilingual website, reported that the the three arrested men were found collecting funds and spreading propaganda in an attempt to revive the LTTE internationally. The website also reported that authorities were continuing to track more members believed to be hiding in the country.

According to UNHCR, out of 140,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia, at least 4,000 are from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's nearly three decades of civil war effectively ended five years ago when troops killed the leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels in a brutal assault, but sympathisers remain.

The Tamil Tigers, who were notorious for their suicide bombings, had fought for a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils, who account for just over 10 percent of the island's population.

Source: Agencies