SL fights rebels, evicts Tamils from capital

 
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Colombo, Jun 7: Sri Lanka evicted hundreds of ethnic Tamils from the capital today citing security concerns, as troops battled Tamil Tiger rebels in jungles in the island's restive east.

Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said the army killed five insurgents overnight in a jungle area called Thoppigala in the eastern district of Batticaloa, and that fighting continued today as Japan's special peace envoy visited camps for war-displaced families in the area.

''We are continuing with our operation in Thoppigala and neutralising their positions,'' Samarasinghe said. He said four soldiers were injured during yesterday's clash, the latest in a series of land and sea battles amid renewed civil war.

Back in Colombo, police packed 376 minority Tamils deemed without valid reasons to be in the capital into buses, most of them headed towards the northern district of Vavuniya - which is now the front line of the 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.

''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,'' he said.

''It is for their own good. You all have been complaining about people being abducted and arrested and detained.'' ''There is also a possibility that LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cadres are among them also,'' he added.

Officials said most of those evicted 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.

ETHNIC CLEANSING?

Analysts decried the eviction as a shocking violation of human rights, with one likening it to a form of ethnic cleansing.

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.

Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi, who is on a 5-day visit to try and find ways to salvage a battered peace process visited an elite police commando base and camps housing internally displaced in Batticaloa today, an aide said.

The camps are located far away from the jungles where the fighting is taking place.

Akashi was also due to visit the former rebel stronghold of Vakarai further north, which troops captured in January along with a vast swathe of eastern territory the rebels controlled under the terms of a tattered 2002 truce.

Japan has played down expectations of any breakthrough from the visit, but says the envoy will try to push forward an initiative to create a devolution proposal to end the conflict.

REUTERS

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