06/08/2007, 00.00
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Expelling Tamils from Colombo tantamount to ethnic cleansing

by Melani Manel Perera
Human rights organisations slam government decision to forcibly repatriate hundreds of Tamils, supposedly without good reasons to be in the capital, to their native village. The authorities claim they had to act for security reasons, but many people charge the government’s action can only widen “the gap between the island’s two main ethnic groups and accentuate Tamils’ marginalisation”

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of Tamils expelled from the capital Colombo for “security reasons” have arrived in northern Sri Lanka. Several human rights organisations wrote to President Mahinda Rajapakse condemning the action described as “ethnic cleansing.”

The decision to remove ethnic Tamils ostensibly without a fixed address or a good reason to be in the capital comes in the wake of a recent wave of attacks in the capital. The government decided to expel them to their native villages in the northern and north-eastern regions of the country on the grounds that Tamil Tiger militants usually rent flats for medium and long-term periods to organise terrorist attacks.

In their letter to the president, eight humanitarian groups complained that on May 31 Tamil residents in the neighbourhoods of Pettah, Wellawatte and Peliyagoda were given 90 minutes to pack their bags and board trucks under the watchful eye of the police for destinations in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincolmalee

“No explanation was given for the decision. Even those who were in the capital for health reasons and couldn’t travel were forced to leave,” eyewitnesses said.

Police told landlords not to rent their flats to Tamils from the north and the east unless they had a “good reason” to be in Colombo.

Under the cover of anonymity Sinhalese and Tamil landlords told AsiaNews that they “understood that the security situation was serious but this does not justify inhuman behaviour towards these people.”

“The government says it respects the human rights of every citizen, but this only widens the gap between the island’s two main ethnic groups and accentuates Tamils’ marginalisation,” they added.

“We are not involved with the Tigers, but renting out our property to those who ask for it is our duty and livelihood. It is up to the security forces to distinguish between rebels and ordinary citizens,” one landlord told AsiaNews.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) slammed the expulsion describing it as an attempt at “ethnic cleansing”. In response the government claimed it “did not act on an ethnic basis.”

The FMM and seven other organisations that signed the letter to President Rajapakse demanded a stop to the action and the return of the expellees to Colombo, citing the Sri Lankan constitution which guarantees all citizens freedom of movement and residence.

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