Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels abducted a member of a Tamil group that opposes the guerrillas' violent campaign for a separate homeland for the ethnic minority, the Sri Lankan military said yesterday.
Krishnaswamyy Tirunavukarasu, of the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, was abducted on Saturday night from his home in Vavuniya, a Tamil-majority town 210km north of Colombo, according to an official at the military's media unit.
Kidnappers, posing as police, entered his house and took him away, the official said.
Earlier, thousands of police officers and soldiers fanned out across Colombo before dawn on Saturday to root out what they termed to be suspected ethnic separatist rebels, arresting 920 people, most of them ethnic Tamils.
By the end of the day, only 53 remained in custody. Police said five were members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrilla group. The rest, charged with minor crimes, were released on bail.
Saturday's action, following an increase in the number of attacks by the Tamil Tigers against government targets, was reminiscent of similar security operations against the island's Tamil minority before a ceasefire agreement was agrred and signed between the government and rebels in February 2002.
It was also among the first signs of tension to be felt in the capital.
A spate of political assassinations, grenade attacks and bombings have largely been restricted to the Tamil majority north and east of the country, near the areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
A spate of killings, attributed alternately to the Tamil Tigers and pro-government militias, have heightened fears of a resumption of war.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting to break away from ethnic Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka for more than 20 years.
The house-to-house sweep on Saturday was conducted primarily in the Tamil enclaves of Sri Lanka's capital city by about 2,400 police officers, backed by 2,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel.
"The operation was aimed at preventing future LTTE attacks and to ensure the security of Colombo," said Pujith Jayasundere, deputy inspector general of police, referring to the term used locally to describe the Tamil Tigers.
Security forces blocked off roads, while policemen went inside homes and checked the identification of the occupants.
Those thought to be suspicious were taken into custody.
No one was allowed to step in or out of their homes.
As the police cordoned off the streets, witnesses said shoppers heading to stores early to avoid the New Year's Eve rush were stopped.