COLOMBO, June 1 (Reuters) - Ethnic minority Tamils staying in the capital Colombo "without a valid reason" are being sent back to their villages in a bid to stamp out rebel attacks, Sri Lanka's police chief said on Friday.
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 in Colombo complain they are being deliberately targeted by the security forces, detained and searched as the state fights a new chapter of a two-decade civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Because there is no a special label to identify an LTTE terrorist and a civilian, we took the decision to send them back to their villages after they finished their work here in Colombo," Inspector General of Police Victor Perera told a news conference.
"Some people who have arrived in Colombo do not have a valid reason to stay," he added. "Anybody can come to Colombo, there is no restriction. But they can't stay loitering in Colombo. We have decided to provide transport facilities for them to go back to their own villages."
The move comes after two suspected Tamil Tiger bomb attacks in the capital in a week and a string 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.
But the planned restriction on Tamils rang alarm bells.
"If a democratic society takes this course of action, it is unacceptable because it is clearly a serious violation of their human rights," said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council, a non-partisan advisory group. "This is a very harsh decision."
"This is the first time such a thing has been spoken about officially, so it suggests the conflict is deteriorating," he added. "This is a new low."
Fighting is now focused on the north after the military captured the Tigers' eastern stronghold, and a string of land and sea battles has killed around 4,000 people since last year.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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