Sri Lanka eases check points in capital

Sri Lanka said Wednesday it would begin dismantling a dozen permanent military check points in the capital which are a legacy of decades of ethnic conflict on the island nation.

Two permanent road blocks on the southwestern edge of Colombo will be removed Wednesday and 10 other similar points will be gradually eased, the government information department said.

"It has become possible to dismantle the permanent check points with the improved security situation. The permanent road blocks will be replaced with alternate surveillance such as snap road blocks," a department spokesman said.

It was not clear what will happen to dozens of other check points across the country, where troops armed with automatic assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades stand guard behind sand-filled bags or heavy metal barricades.

In a sign of the changing role of the check points and atmosphere in the country, some check points had started featuring advertising space targeting motorists who are routinely held up while their vehicles are searched.

Sri Lankan troops wiped out the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year following a no-holds-barred military offensive.

Colombo, a city of 650,000 people, had been tightly guarded during the fighting which saw key economic and military targets, politicians and military commanders targeted by the rebels in the capital.

Since their defeat, the Tigers have not been able to stage any attacks anywhere on the island, but Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told parliament this month that separatists living in the United States and Norway were trying to stage a comeback.

Sri Lanka is still under a state of emergency which gives police and security forces wide powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial.

Shortly after the crushing of the Tigers, the government eased some of the provisions in the emergency laws, but many measures have been brought back recently under different legislation.

The United Nations estimates that up to 100,000 people died in the ethnic conflict which lasted from 1972 until 2009.

The opposition accuses the government of using emergency laws to stifle political dissent and the media, charges denied by the authorities.