COLOMBO, June 7 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan police packed hundreds of ethnic minority Tamils staying in the capital"without valid reasons" into buses and sent them to the island's restive northeast on Thursday, citing security amid renewed civil war.
Rohan Abeywardene, Inspector General of Police for Colombo, said the ethnic Tamils were being sent back to their own villages for their own safety amid a rash of abductions blamed on state security services and Tamil Tiger rebels, and to avoid insurgents infiltrating the capital.
Officials said 291 men and 85 women were sent in seven buses, six of which are heading towards the northern district of Vavuniya -- which is now the front line of renewed civil war -- and one busload to the eastern district of Batticaloa.
"Some people who had no valid reasons to be in Colombo and are just hanging around, they have been requested to leave and told they had better get back to their own villages," Abeywardene told Reuters.
Hundreds of minority Tamils, many from poor rural areas, live in boarding houses in Colombo while they work or search for jobs or seek employment abroad. Many ethnic Tamils complain they are being deliberately targeted by the security forces, detained and searched.
"It is for their own good. You all have been complaining about people being abducted and arrested and detained," Abeywardene said. "The main problem is people are just hanging around. There is also a possibility that LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cadres are among them also."
Officials said most of those sent to Vavuniya would cross over into Tamil Tiger-held territory to return to their villages and that the Tigers had agreed to let them cross defence lines. The Tigers were not immediately available for comment.
Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions and disappearances blamed on both sides. President Mahinda Rajapaksa argues many of those reports are fake, and denies the security forces are involved.
Local television footage aired pictures of armed police among civilians aboard one of the red government buses being used to evict the Tamils, acting as escorts.
One man herded onto one of the buses called private local radio station Sirisa FM from a mobile phone.
"The police came and took us and put everyone on the bus," he said, saying the bus was about 20 miles (32 km) outside the capital, heading northeast. "We don't know where we are being taken."
The move comes after a series of suspected Tamil Tiger bomb attacks in the capital in recent months as a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 deepens.
Officials suspect that Tiger cells are installed in the capital and seeking to stage attacks.
Observers are shocked at what they say is a serious violation of human rights.
"This is almost like a variation of ethnic cleansing," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of independent think-tank the Centre for Policy Alternatives. "It is quite appalling."
"Do they not have any other security measure which doesn't send a message to the Tamil community that they are suspect?" he added. "It is a horrible message to be sending out."
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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