Police told to protect belongings of Sri Lankan war-displaced


Colombo : The Sri Lankan police have been ordered to protect the belongings of thousands of war-displaced civilians who escaped fighting between the troops and Tamil Tigers in the island’s north and are now housed in refugee camps, a media report said here Sunday.

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According to government statistics, nearly 200,000 people have fled the war-zone and come to the government-held areas since the beginning of this year. They have been temporarily housed at refugee camps and welfare centres in the northern Vavuniya town.

“Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has directed the police to take immediate measures to protect valuables such as jewellery and cash of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs),” the state-run Sunday Observer quoted a senior police official as saying.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police for the north Nimal Lewke has said a special police awareness programme has been launched “to educate people not to keep their jewellery and money with them”.

He said that Tamils in the north had refrained from keeping their jewellery and money in banks due to the fear of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tigers insisted that they deposit their cash and jewellery in rebel-run banks.

Claiming that a large number of IDPs have brought their valuables along with them to the refugee camps, he said that “extortionist gangs from Tamil political groups had relieved innocent Tamils of their cash and valuables”.

“Steps have been taken to ensure that the Tamils who had been saved from the clutches of the LTTE were not harassed by any terror groups to extort money,” the media report quoted him as saying.

Police chief Jayantha Wickramaratna warned that “extortionist groups currently operating in certain areas in the Wanni and in the East will be severely dealt with”, adding that a 16-member group in the northern town of Vavuniya was recently arrested for demanding money from Tamil civilians.

The media report said that the state banks such as Bank of Ceylon and People’s Bank have launched a campaign to mobilise deposits. Over 3,000 savings accounts had been opened recently with the Bank of Ceylon.

The defence ministry last week said the troops have cornered the LTTE into a small strip of land and were now “surging in three frontal ground manoeuvres to rescue civilians held hostage by the LTTE at gunpoint”.

The Tamil Tigers led by Velupillai Prabhakaran have been fighting to carve out a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka over the past quarter century.