THE police served them toffee and sweet drinks as they queued up to register at designated centres in Colombo. But for many of the thousands of Tamil civilians obliged to turn up, this was scant consolation for a violation of their rights. Guru, a 23-year-old law student from Jaffna, called the toffee “a trade-off on my dignity”. The orders to register were given on September 20th by police with loudhailers moving slowly along the streets of Colombo’s Tamil areas, which have recently been receiving swarms of civilians fleeing the intensifying war in the north.
The government labelled the exercise a “census”, to determine whether there had been a change in the ethnic balance of the Western province, where the capital is located. It is increasingly edgy about attacks in the capital by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. For 25 years the Tigers, who have a history of terrorist atrocities, have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. But Tamil civilians fear the real objective is to weed out anybody suspected of Tiger links. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the war is entering its final stages. And the president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the defence secretary, maintains that stringent security measures are an “inconvenience” that the minority Tamil community will have to endure.