COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, AUG. 6 -- The government today ordered the release of 1,700 Tamil prisoners under a peace accord aimed at ending the four-year civil war in this island nation.

Defense Secretary Sepala Attygale signed an amnesty declaration ordering that the Tamil prisoners, held without trial in southern Sri Lanka, be freed.

"The release of the Tamil suspects will begin either Thursday or Friday," an official at the Defense Ministry said.

It will be the first release of prisoners as called for in the accord guaranteed by India, which has sent 4,000 soldiers to Sri Lanka as peacekeepers. India and Sri Lanka signed the agreement last week.

Militant Tamil serparatists have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island. Tamils, who are mostly Hindus like the majority of Indians, make up 18 percent of Sri Lanka's 16 million people. Sinhalese Buddhists control the government.

The official said all of the detainees had been arrested under emergency regulations enacted by Parliament that gave police wide-ranging powers to arrest Tamil rebels and suspected sympathizers.

Most of the suspects are believed held at a military camp at Boosa, 65 miles south of Colombo.

Officials say there are 3,000 Tamil prisoners in military camps and jails throughout Sri Lanka, but independent sources claim the figure is more than 5,000.