Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 11:22 UK

Tamil census ordered in Colombo

A Sri Lankan police officer stands guard as ethnic Tamil civilians queue up to register their names in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Long queues formed at the registration centres in Colombo and nearby towns

Sri Lanka's police have started registering thousands of people, nearly all ethnic Tamils, who have fled the war-torn north for the capital Colombo.

All those who arrived in the city in the last five years were ordered to attend special registration centres.

The government says the rebel Tamil Tigers are using the influx of people to infiltrate the city and plant bombs.

It comes as the latest military offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers continues in northern Sri Lanka.

The registration was ordered for people who had arrived in Colombo and surrounding towns from five northern districts.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said those without what he called a valid reason to stay should leave the area.

The registration centres were set up in schools and temples across the capital city and surrounding towns.

Harassment complaints

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says the vast majority waiting in line are from the ethnic Tamil minority.

He says the impromptu census began as government forces pressed ahead with an offensive to crush the Tiger rebels in the north, and end their fight for a separate state for the Tamils.

He adds that Tamils have complained of harassment, frequent searches and arbitrary detentions amid heavy security.

One man waiting outside a school in the suburb of Wellawatte told our correspondent that Tamils were being singled out and the registration drive was a human tragedy.

The police said they were updating information in order to help those who had arrived in the city.

On Friday, fresh clashes were reported between Tamil rebels and government troops in northern Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the week, the UN and other aid groups pulled out of the area after the government said it could not guarantee their safety. About 250,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east for 25 years.

Human rights groups say about 70,000 people have been killed in what is one of South Asia's longest-running and most persistent insurgencies.

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