Tamils in Colombo fear return of mass arrests
[TamilNet, Sunday, 29 June 2003, 18:36 GMT]
Three hundred and six persons were arrested in Colombo and its suburbs during the past twenty-four hours said Police in Sri Lanka’s capital Sunday. Reports in the Tamil press Sunday said that six hundred and fifty Tamils were arrested during a joint cordon and search operation by the army and Police in the city’s suburbs Saturday night. Meanwhile, a union for Police officers called on Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister and President to re-impose the draconian Emergency Regulations to facilitate their work in ensuring the capital’s security.
Thirty-nine of those arrested on Saturday night, mostly youth, have been detained for further interrogation, according to the reports. The Police also searched a private passenger bus bound for Colombo from Batticaloa Sunday.
“The arrests have caused pervasive anxiety among Tamils here that the city is slipping back to the time in the not so distant past when fear and uncertainty ruled the lives of Tamil families in the suburbs of Colombo”, a senior correspondent for the Tamil daily, Virakesari, said Sunday.
Sri Lanka Police can arrest and detain suspects only under normal laws of the land now. Colombo agreed to suspend arrests under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in terms of its ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers last year.
The PTA and ER give sweeping powers to Sri Lankan armed forces to search, arrest and detain. Thousands of Tamils in Colombo were routinely arrested, interrogated, tortured and detained incommunicado for long periods under the draconian provisions of the ER and PTA.
The provisions inevitably gave rise to widespread ethnically motivated abuse and immense corruption, particularly in the capital and the main towns that were controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces, as these laws provided no basis for accountability or judicial review.
Tamils residing in Colombo were compelled to register the details of their households and produce their registration in addition to their press accreditation cards at military and Police check points in the city.
In an apparent effort to diffuse the rising concern in Colombo’s Tamil population about the re-introduction of laws that provide a blank cheque to Sri Lankan armed forces to search, interrogate and detain persons indefinitely, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Interior, Mr. John Amaratunga, said last night’s operation was not intended for arresting and detaining suspect Tamils. He said that underworld criminals too were among those arrested during the cordon and search operations.
Many Tamils were arrested last night in the outer suburb of Moratuwa, sources said.