Friday, September 18, 2009

Sri Lanka re-detains released refugees - Tamil Lawmaker

By Krishan Francis - Hundreds of Tamil war refugees whom the Sri Lankan government said it had released from military-run camps last week were simply moved to other detention centers, a lawmaker said Thursday.

Mavai Senathiraja, a parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance, an opposition party representing ethnic Tamils, also alleged that thousands of others who were promised freedom remain in the camps.

His claims came as a top U.N. official, who toured camps in the north on Thursday, urged the quick release of nearly 300,000 minority Tamils forced from their homes by the civil war. The 25-year war ended in May when the government routed the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Human rights advocates have called on Sri Lanka to immediately release all the civilians held in the camps and have warned that monsoon rains due to start next month could create a public health crisis in the crowded facilities.

The government has refused to open the camp gates, but says it will resettle 80 percent of the displaced by the end of the year, after land mines are cleared from their villages.

To buttress that promise, the government announced last Friday it had released 9,920 people and sent them to their homes in the country's east and north.

Senathiraja said 6,000 of those promised release last week were from his constituency in northern Jaffna, but only 580 arrived in the area and all of them were immediately sent to another camp, where they continue to be detained.

"There is no resettlement. This is like being sent from one prison to another prison," he said.

In the eastern districts of Ampara and Trincomalee, many returning refugees were being held in schools that have been turned into makeshift camps, he said.

The government denies the charge.

"There is no way it can happen. We select the people carefully for resettlement, and these people were sent nowhere else," Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said.

But a government official in Ampara confirmed about 130 people who had been released from a camp in the north were being held until they received security clearances and their homes were repaired. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

With concern for the civilians growing, U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe urged the quick release of the displaced people.

"We do actually know the security concerns. We are not oblivious to that. But it is very important as we see it to get people out into more normal circumstances as soon as possible," Pascoe said.

Pascoe is also expected to raise with the government reports of wartime human rights abuses. He is to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday.

Separately, Philip Alston, U.N. investigator on extrajudicial killings, called Thursday for an "independent and impartial investigation" into a video that purports to show Sri Lankan troops killing naked, blindfolded men during the civil war.

Sri Lanka's government says four separate studies have concluded that the footage — released last month by a German-based group and shown on British television — was doctored. It denies government forces carried out extrajudicial killings during the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, Alston said none of the studies cited by Sri Lanka appears to be independent.

The Tamil Tigers fought for a separate state for Tamils, claiming decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The U.N. says between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the war.

© Associated Press

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