Of Tamils Forcibly
Expelled From Colombo
By W.A. Sunil
12 June, 2007
a blatantly illegal action on June 7, the Sri Lankan government ordered
police to raid cheap boarding lodges in Colombo and forcibly evict Tamil
residents from the capital. Police rounded up hundreds of ordinary Tamils
at gunpoint, packed them into buses, drove them to the distant towns
of Vavuniya in the North and Trincomalee in the East, and dumped them.
The pre-dawn raid was carried
out without warning in the Pettah, Maradana, Kotahena and Wellawatta
areas of Colombo. According to the police, 376 people—291 men
and 85 women—were detained and dispatched to the North and East
in eight buses. None were charged with any crime.
Inspector General of Police
Victor Perera revealed the communal basis for the round-up, declaring
it had been necessary to secure the “safety of innocent people
living in Colombo and its suburbs”. In other words, under conditions
where the Colombo government is intensifying its war against the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), all Tamils are being treated as the enemy.
Two recent bomb blasts in Colombo, at Pettah and Ratmalana, have been
blamed on the LTTE.
Police Deputy Inspector General
in Colombo, Rohan Abeywardene, attempted to justify the expulsions by
saying that the Tamils involved had “no valid reasons” to
stay in Colombo. Abeywardene’s comments raised the prospect that
tens of thousands more Tamils, who are temporary residents of the capital,
would also be expelled. There is, however, no basis in law requiring
Sri Lankan citizens to obtain official approval to shift residence.
Speaking just hours after
the round-up, the government’s defence spokesman Kehaliya Rambukwella
brushed aside criticisms and cynically told parliament that the security
forces had only been facilitating the “voluntary departure”
Speaking to Sirasa TV, a
Pettah lodge owner described what had happened: “The police and
the army came early morning, at about 3.00 a.m. and took the people
out from the rooms. There were about seven or eight people aged more
than 65 years old. A lady, who was about 65 years, cried and lamented
and knelt before the police officers and pleaded not to send her back.
They didn’t care [about] that and there were another four elderly
women and four elderly men.
“There was one who
returned after days in an intensive care unit of Colombo hospital and
he showed his medical reports to the police. But they didn’t even
look at them and he too was taken away. We don’t know the real
purpose but the police said no one could stay for more than two weeks
The Daily Mirror reported
on June 8 that among those forcibly carted off was a 23-year-old Tamil
girl, who was staying in a lodge with her aged mother, waiting to get
married. They had booked a reception hall for the ceremony in a week’s
time. She was expecting her bridegroom to arrive from London. Despite
producing a receipt issued by the reception hall owners, police said
they had “no valid reason” to stay in Colombo and ordered
them to return to Karaweddi in Jaffna. They complained that they had
nowhere to live in Karaweddi, as their properties had been mortgaged
to cover the wedding expenses.
The expulsions provoked widespread
outrage in Sri Lanka and internationally. Five organisations, including
the Centre for Human Rights and Development, Centre for Policy Alternatives
and Free Media Movement, issued a statement on June 7 declaring that
the police round-up was a flagrant violation of “right to choose
their residence and freedom of movement”.
Uproar erupted in parliament
after MPs belonging to the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance demanded
a debate over the round-up. Jaffna District MP Suresh Premachandran
threatened to quit parliament if the expulsions were not stopped.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
of the United National Party (UNP) also felt compelled to make a protest,
comparing the government’s treatment of Tamils to the persecution
of Jews in Nazi Germany. Even the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which
is notorious for its anti-Tamil chauvinism, described the government’s
actions as “high handed and foolish”. The UNP was responsible
for launching the country’s bloody civil war in 1983. The JVP
is currently demanding the government launch all-out war against “Tiger
So naked was the communal
character of the police round-up that the US and India, which have tacitly
backed President Mahinda Rajapakse’s war against the LTTE, issued
hypocritical criticisms. The US embassy declared that it “understands
and supports Sri Lanka’s obligation to defend itself against terrorism”
but “this action can only widen the ethnic divide”. An Indian
High Commission spokeswoman expressed New Delhi’s “concern”
about the eviction of Tamils.
On June 8, the Centre for
Policy Alternatives challenged the government’s decision by taking
out a Fundamental Rights petition in the country’s Supreme Court.
The court issued an interim order directing the Inspector General of
Police (IGP) “not to take any steps to evict Tamils from Colombo
or to prevent them from entering and staying in any part of Colombo”.
The order did not, however, extend to the 376 people who had been expelled
In a bid to contain the political
fall-out, President Rajapakse sought to make the country’s police
chief the scapegoat for the decision. He called on IGP Perera, one of
the president’s own appointees, to provide an explanation for
his actions and to return to Colombo all those who had been expelled.
Only 186 have been brought back. The remainder, obviously terrified
by the experience, returned to their towns and villages in the North
On Sunday, Prime Minister
Ratnasiri Wickremenayake stepped in to try to shield President Rajapakse.
“I express regret regarding the shifting of people from here to
various other places. That should never have been done,” he said.
“The government accepts responsibility.”
This transparent attempt
at political damage control should fool no one. The expulsion of hundreds
of innocent Tamils from Colombo is a logical product of the communal
war, which Rajapakse has restarted and been waging since he narrowly
won the presidency in November 2005. The government has reimposed tough
security laws allowing the arbitrary detention without trial of “terrorist
suspects,” giving the security forces wide powers to harass and
At the same time, hundreds
of people, mainly Tamils, have been murdered or “disappeared”
in circumstances that clearly implicate the military and associated
paramilitaries. The Tamil media and journalists have been particular
targets of these pro-government death squads. Virtually no one has been
arrested or charged over any of these incidents, leading international
human rights organisations to accuse the government of sanctioning a
climate of impunity.
While Rajapakse claims to
be waging a “war on terror” against the LTTE, the persecution
of ordinary Tamils underscores the real purpose of the protracted war,
which is to maintain the political and economic dominance of the island’s
Sinhala ruling elites. Rajapakse and Wickremenayake have only stepped
back from their latest repressive measure because it threatens to trigger
protests at home and undermine support from the international backers
of the war—the Bush administration in particular.
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