COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s military stopped scores of ethnic Tamil protesters from entering the capital on Wednesday before a Commonwealth summit as a British TV crew also faced problems traveling around the island.
Roman Catholic priest Emmanuel Sebamali, who organized the visit by minority Tamils to the capital, said their buses were stopped initially by police and later by troops who forced them to return.
“We have been forced to turn back,” the priest told AFP by telephone. “They’ve refused to give us a reason. They just won’t allow us to travel to Colombo.”
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), set to begin on Friday, was hit by a new pullout Tuesday as the prime minister of Mauritius joined those of India and Canada in boycotting the event.
Sri Lanka had hoped the three-day summit would showcase its post-war revival but it is turning into a PR disaster as some of the 53 Commonwealth members and rights groups focus attention on the island’s human rights record.
Sebamali said that about 200 Tamils were en route to a meeting to draw attention to the plight of thousands who lost loved ones in a decades-long separatist war which ended in 2009. The final government offensive has been dogged by war crimes allegations, with Sri Lankan troops accused of murdering surrendering rebels and shelling hospitals. Colombo denies any wrong doing.
There was no comment from police or the military on the Tamil protest, but Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the authorities prevented them from traveling to Colombo fearing a “breach of the peace.”
“There were intelligence reports that this is a politically motivated protest and these (Tamil) people came to Colombo during the summit, it would have led to a breach of the peace,” Rambukwella told reporters.