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Sri Lanka's Supreme Court Halts Tamil Evictions

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has halted evictions of ethnic Tamils from the country's capital - after police suddenly deported members of the minority group to the island's war-torn north and east. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court on Friday immediately stopped the forced evictions of ethnic Tamils in Colombo. Police in recent days have rounded up and expelled several hundred Tamils from the capital, busing most of them back to the front lines in the north and east, where separatist Tamils are waging a military campaign against the Sri Lankan military.

The director of Sri Lanka's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says the police action has sent a wave of fear through the capital's 250,000 Tamils.

"They're scared and concerned and hurt," he said. "Just because you're a Tamil who has come from out of Colombo you can be picked up in this manner and just packed off. The government is breaking the laws of this country, and I think this is borne out by the fact that the Supreme Court has stayed the evictions, pending its final decision."

The Supreme Court says it will hear the case on June 22 and has told police not to carry out further evictions before then.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe says authorities were forced to act after recent suicide bomb attacks in the capital by separatist Tamil rebels.

"The police have found out that cheap lodges in Colombo are occupied by the terrorist suspects," he said. "It's not ethnic cleansing or things like that because more than one third of the population in Colombo are Tamils."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam have been fighting since 1972 for a homeland separate from the south, where Sinhalese are the main ethnic group. More than 5,000 people have been killed just in the past 19 months.