Sri Lanka parliament asked to extend emergency powers for police searches
Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse
Sri Lanka's president has summoned parliament to ratify a state of emergency giving police greater powers as officers steppped up their hunt for the assassins of the foreign minister.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for Friday's killing of Lakshman Kadirgamar, which sparked fears that a ceasefire in place since February 2002 could break down.
Kumaratunga, in a decree issued Tuesday, ordered the assembly to meet Thursday to ratify her initial declaration of emergency and extend it for one month.
Police, empowered under the emergency to conduct searches without a warrant and detain people without charges, stepped up the hunt for Kadirgamar's assassins as well as other suspected rebels, defence ministry spokesman Daya Ratnayake said.
"Our information is that a lot of Tigers have infiltrated the city in recent years," Ratnayake said. "A lot of searches are going on now. We are assisting the police and the idea is to get at the infiltrators and their weapons."
Police deputy Inspector-General Pujith Jayasundara said searches were intensified after the tightly-guarded cremation of Kadirgamar on Monday at Colombo's Independence Square public park.
"Earlier our focus was on the funeral in view of the visiting dignitaries, and now we are deploying more on the search operations," Jayasundara said. He declined to say how many people had been detained.
However, he said the murder weapon had not yet been recovered and no arrests had been made in connection with the killing, which the authorities believe would have been meticulously planned for months.
The Tigers deny involvement in the killing of Kadirgamar, who had spearheaded a campaign which led to the rebels being outlawed overseas.
At least two snipers shot Kadirgamar as he got out of his swimming pool in an upscale neighbourhood. The gunmen had take up position in an upper floor bathroom across from the minister's tightly-guarded home.
Police chief Chandra Fernando told reporters Sunday that Kadirgamar was warned of heightened threats against his life and had been asked to move away from his private residence.
However, he insisted on staying there and did not want his neighbours inconvenienced through search operations, Fernando said.
In the initial phase of searches near the minister's home, police recovered a grenade launcher and four spent bullets.
The grenade launcher had not been used in the attack, police said adding that they were still looking for the gun used to shoot Kadirgamar three times in the chest and the head.
The defence ministry spokesman Ratnayake said they will bring back mobile road blocks and snap checkpoints as part of new measures against the rebels.
"This time, the operations will be based more on intelligence, information from the public," Ratnayake said. "We may not have a situation of closing roads like we saw before the (2002) ceasefire."
After the ceasefire, Sri Lanka dismantled many of its elaborate checkpoints in the capital and government-controlled areas. The checkpoints were set up during the height of a civil war between Tamil rebels and the government which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.
Since the assassination more armed troops have been seen on the roads and posted outside key state institutions.
A month ago Kumaratunga declared her official residence and the immediate neighbourhood a "high security zone" and banned processions or heavy vehicles from the area.
The restriction already applies to three luxury hotels, including the Colombo Hilton, and the World Trade Centre building, with owners compelled to declare details of all occupants to security authorities.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch Tuesday asked security forces to act with restraint and respect civil rights while carrying out their searches.
The group expressed concern about possible reprisals against minority Tamils living in government-controlled areas, and said the military, police and intelligence services should be publicly ordered to avoid torture and killings.
Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse