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Sri Lankan Authorities Criticized For Mass Arrests

By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi

Sri Lankan Authorities Criticized for Mass Arrests of Tamil Civilians

There is a growing chorus of protest among international and local rights groups over the recent mass arrests of minority ethnic Tamils by Sri Lankan authorities. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.

The arrests of over 2,500 Tamil civilians took place during a security crackdown after 20 people were killed last week in two bomb attacks in Colombo.

The attacks were blamed on Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who are fighting for an autonomous Tamil homeland.

Most of the detainees have since been released, but more than 200 still remain in custody.

The government says the arrests were not an action against the Tamil minority community, but were prompted by security concerns.

But the government faces heavy criticism from human rights groups and Tamil politicians, who say Tamils are being singled out by the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan security forces.

Amnesty International says the arrests were made on "arbitrary and discriminatory grounds."

Jehan Perera, who heads a peace advocacy group, the National Peace Council, explains the concerns of the rights groups.

"People are essentially being asked to prove that they are innocent, which is a complete turnaround of the normal legal processes ... so it is in our view a great violation of human rights," Perera said.

An independent policy research group in Colombo, the Center for Policy Alternatives, has challenged the arrests in the Supreme Court, saying they violated fundamental rights because legal procedures were not followed.

It asks the Supreme Court to ensure that such detentions do not take place in future.

The government earlier faced criticism for violating the rights of the Tamil community. In June, authorities rounded up hundreds of Tamils and evicted them from Colombo. They were allowed to return after criticism from the international community and rights groups.

Sri Lanka's civil conflict erupted in 1983, triggered by complaints of discrimination against the ethnic Tamils by the majority Sinhalese community. A cease-fire that held for two years broke down last year, leading to renewed combat in recent months.


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