Sri Lanka police force ethnic Tamils to reregister
Sun September 21, 2008 12:26 EDT .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians lined up at schools and Hindu temples in Sri Lanka - 's capital Sunday to comply with a police order requiring all who moved to Colombo from the island's north to reregister with the police.
Also Sunday, a Hindu priest of a prominent temple was shot dead in eastern Sri Lanka - and the military blamed the killing on Tamil Tiger rebels.
Migrants from the north which has been wracked by civil war for more than 25 years have long had to register with police when they move to Colombo. But last week, police said that they needed to update their records to ensure security in the capital and that all who made the move in the past five years must register again.
Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera said Thursday that the order would affect more than 100,000 people. The overwhelming majority of those people are minority ethnic Tamils. Some complained that Sunday's forced registration was unfair and unlawful.
``This is very wrong in a democratic country. We already have our registrations with the police so why should we do it again?'' R. Gajendran told The Associated Press at his home in a predominantly Tamil neighborhood of the city. The unemployed 28-year-old said he fled to Colombo to escape violence in his native Jaffna.
Authorities have not said what will happen to those who are unable or refuse to reregister Sunday.
Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils after a history of marginalization by successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
On Sunday, rifle-toting police kept watch as entire families, including infants and the elderly, crowded the registration centers.
``The government is drawing here a distinction between us and the rest of the citizens. We are Sri Lankans too,'' Paramanathan Thileepan, a 23-year-old Tamil who works as an accounts clerk, said after registering at a center set up at a school in the same neighborhood.
Many others refused to speak, fearing reprisals for criticizing the authorities. However, a 74-year-old trader who identified himself only as Ponnuthurai said he was happy that the formalities were completed quickly without having to wait for long.
``It all went well. What's the harm in having to register once more?'' he said.
Colombo-based Tamils complain of frequent police raids, harassment and arbitrary detentions. Authorities try to justify the measures by saying rebel agents could be hiding among the Tamil community.
Tamil lawmaker Ramiah Yogarajan called the registration a ``harassment of the peace-loving'' and said some Tamils feared they would be banished back to the north after they reregister.
More than 300 Tamils were forcibly evicted from Colombo last year but were returned to the capital a day later on a court order.
Yogarajan accused police of violating a court order that prohibits summoning people for registration.
Police spokesman Gunasekara insisted the reregistration was legal and peaceful.
Later on Sunday, unknown assailants shot dead Hindu priest Kugaraja Kurukkal while he was riding his motorbike in the eastern city of Trincomalee. He was a priest at Koneswara Temple, a popular pilgrim site.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara blamed the rebels for the killing but it was not possible to contact rebel officials for comment because most communication lines to the north have been cut.
The majority of ethnic Tamils are Hindus, while most among the majority Sinhalese are Buddhists.Discuss this story
Published: Sun Sep 21 15:09:39 EDT 2008