B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake on Sunday expressed `regret' over Thursday's eviction of 376 "jobless Tamils" living temporarily in lodges in Colombo and suburbs to their places of permanent residence in the north and east.

Addressing a news conference here, Mr. Wickramanayake said his Government accepted "responsibility" for what happened and said such incidents would not recur. However, he was not ready at this juncture to pin the blame on anyone.

On Friday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for an immediate report from Inspector-General of Police Victor Perera on the `manner' of eviction, amid reports that the Tamils were put to great hardship and inconvenience.

The same day Mr. Perera rejected the allegations made by "certain political elements" that the police had forcibly evicted the Tamils. The Supreme Court on Saturday temporarily stayed the evictions.

In a statement, the IGP said people making these allegations had either misunderstood the process or deliberately misinterpreted the truth. He said he had summoned inspectors in charge of Colombo police stations for an inquiry but "found no evidence" of any forcible expulsion. He said the government provided "safe transportation" to 376 people out of over 20,000 Tamil lodgers in Colombo.

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