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updated 3/14/2014 5:41:47 PM ET 2014-03-14T21:41:47

COLOMBO (Reuters) - An ethnic Tamil woman who has become a prominent face in the effort to find out what happened to the tens of thousands who disappeared in the final stages of Sri Lanka's 26-year war has been arrested, the main Tamil party TNA said on Friday.

Sri Lankan police said Balendran Jayakumari, a 50-year-old widow and mother of four, was arrested in Sri Lanka's former northern war zone of Kilinochchi on the charge of harboring a criminal who shot at a police officer to evade arrest.

The Tamil National Alliance, which was the political proxy of the now-defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said she was being punished for repeatedly protesting over the fate of her son, an under-age rebel who disappeared after the Tigers surrendered to the government at the end of the war in May 2009.

"I think they have been targeted and charging her will send a message to the other relatives of disappeared people. Those people may not come out to tell what happened to their beloved ones in the future," TNA lawmaker Eswarapatham Saravanabavan told Reuters.

International pressure is growing on Sri Lanka's government to address allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed by the army in the final weeks of the war and some thousands are still missing or unaccounted for.

The TNA said in a statement several hundred security personnel surrounded Jayakumari's house on Thursday, confiscated her mobile telephones and interrogated her for more than four hours before taking her and her daughter away.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Jayakumari was arrested "on the offence of harboring an escaped criminal".

He said the daughter was taken into police custody for her own safety because there was nobody to look after her and the mother was not willing to give her to a third party.

Jayakumari and her daughter regularly stood at the forefront of protests over the fate of the disappeared held when dignitaries visited Kilinochchi, including British Prime Minister David Cameron in November and UN human rights chief Navi Pillay in August.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner last month in a report expressed grave concern at the harassment and intimidation against individuals or groups who met or attempted to meet with Pillay.

Sri Lanka is already facing international criticism over its conduct in the final phase of the war. The West and United Nations have asked the island nation to investigate alleged war crimes and continuing human rights abuses.

The United States has called for a resolution at the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to investigate "past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, and religious minorities."

(Additional reporting by N. Parameswaran in JAFFNA; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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