With just a couple of weeks to go for the SAARC summit, scheduled to be held in Colombo between July 27 and August 3, people from the North and East claim they are being actively discouraged from coming to the city and staying here during the conference period.
According to Parliamentarian and Western Province People’s Front leader Mano Ganesan, lodge owners are being discouraged by the police from giving accommodation to Tamils visitors from the North and East during this period.
“What were just requests in connection with the upcoming SAARC summit are now turning into acts of intimidation,” Mr. Ganesan said. “We are collecting information from lodge owners and people who had plans to stay at Colombo lodges.”
Lodge owners in several parts of Colombo, including Kotahena and Pettah, say visitors from the North and East have been asked to produce Grama Sevaka certificates from their respective areas and register with the police. However, many of these visitors to Colombo claim they heard about these requirements only after arriving in the city.
Meanwhile, several Tamils from the North and the East living in Colombo lodges say they are being compelled by the police to leave the city, despite last year’s Supreme Court injunction ordering the police to stop evicting residents from Colombo lodges.
The injunction followed lodge-related incidents in June last year.
The police have denied that lodge owners and visitors from the North and East were being subject to such treatment.
Meanwhile, according to reports, a Vavuniya resident who came to Colombo in April to apply for a visa to visit a European country was arrested in Pettah and detained for more than 50 days. She was subsequently released without any charges. The woman claimed the police continue to call at her lodge and harass her, insisting she returns to her family in Vavuniya.
“They have asked me to go back to Vavuniya, as my family is there,” she said. “They say I shouldn’t be here in Colombo. I have applied for my visa and I am waiting for a reply. I still have more visa paperwork to do. If I go back to Vavuniya now, I might lose the opportunity to get a visa.”
The woman added that prevailing tensions in Vavuniya were another reason she preferred to remain in Colombo. “We can’t stay in Vavuniya because of the LTTE, and when we come here we are told to go. So where are we to go?”
In another case, a young man from Jaffna temporarily residing at a lodge in Colombo with his guardians says the police are putting pressure on him to return to Jaffna.
The Jaffna resident says he went overseas last year, but was deported, and that he was staying in Colombo in order to report to a police station in Negombo once a month pending a court case.
“It is not practical to go back to Jaffna right now. I would have to come back to Negombo every month, and this means a lot of money. A Jaffna-Colombo air ticket costs Rs. 20,000. And if I missed a court date, there’ll be more problems for me,” the Jaffna resident said.
Pettah Police OIC G. M. Jayaratne denied that any lodge residents in Colombo, including Pettah, were being coerced to move out within a particular period of time. “We cannot do such a thing, and we have not ordered these residents to move out,” he said.
OIC Jayaratne said the police have received no such complaints from residents of lodges based in Pettah.
Wellawatte Police OIC Mangala Dihidiniya also said no such complaints had been received from residents of lodges in the area.
“We haven’t forced anyone at lodges to leave Colombo. However, when visitors from the North and East come to Colombo, they are required to declare themselves, under Section 23 of the Emergency Act.
“If they state they are staying for only six months and stay longer, we will question them and act accordingly,” the Wellawatte OIC said.
Kotahena Police OIC H. T. N. Abeywardena said there have been no cases so far of Tamil residents living in lodges in the area being forced to move out after exceeding their period of stay in Colombo.
“It is they who say how long they will stay in Colombo. We don’t tell them they can stay for only three months or six months. They leave when the time is over,” the Kotahena OIC said.
In early June last year, citing security reasons, the police ordered some 500 Tamils staying in lodges in different parts of Colombo to leave the city immediately. The evicted persons were sent back in buses to Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa.
On June 8, 2007, the Supreme Court, after hearing a fundamental rights petition filed by the Center for Policy Alternatives, issued an interim order prohibiting the police and the IGP from evacuating Tamils residing in Colombo lodges.