Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sri Lanka May Create Bitterness by Holding Refugees, Ban Says

By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka risks creating bitterness if it fails to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees held in camps since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps may result in growing bitterness, Ban told Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake at a meeting yesterday in New York, according to the UN.

A shooting at the main center in the north at the weekend, in which two children were injured, is a “sign of growing frustrations” in the camps, the UN cited Ban as saying. Sri Lanka’s military said people in the camp threw a grenade at soldiers who fired in the air to disperse an unruly crowd.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says the resettlement of more than 280,000 displaced people depends on ensuring security in the north and clearing mines from conflict areas. Sri Lanka earlier this month rejected an assertion by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay that the Tamils are detained under “conditions of internment.”

The army defeated the last LTTE forces in a battle on the northeast coast in May that ended the group’s 26-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation.

While Ban acknowledged the efforts being made by the government since the conflict ended, he said Sri Lanka must win the trust and confidence of the population in the mainly Tamil north to achieve reconciliation.

Camp Unrest

The unrest at the weekend occurred at the Menik Farm camp at Vavuniya in the north. Soldiers were forced to fire in the air when people threw stones, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said two days ago.

Two suspects were wounded when they tried to escape after throwing a grenade at soldiers, he said, adding they had links to Tamil Tiger terrorists.

In the past two weeks, Lynn Pascoe, UN’s political chief, and Walter Kalin, the under secretary-general for human rights, visited the country to assess the needs of displaced people. Pascoe said the pace of the release of refugees is “too slow” and people are growing impatient to leave the camps.

Wickremanayake told Ban, while the government is trying to meet its pledges to resettle all displaced people by January, it needs international aid, in particular for clearing mines, according to the UN.

The international community should support Sri Lanka’s efforts to rebuild after its defeat of terrorism, the prime minister said in a Sept. 26 address to the UN General Assembly.

Overseas Funds

The LTTE enjoyed financial assistance from outside Sri Lanka and remnants of the group are continuing efforts to raise funds, Wickremanayake said.

“Although we have been successful in defeating terrorism in Sri Lanka, we continue to urge our friends and partners in the international community to be vigilant and to continue to take action against the illegal acts of the LTTE on their soil,” he told the assembly.

Sri Lanka is facing a conspiracy to devalue its defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Rajapaksa said earlier this month. Western nations should help reconstruction and stop criticizing the country over its treatment of displaced people and human rights, the president said.

© Bloomberg

Related Links:
UN in Tamil 'bitterness' warning - BBC News

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