Monday, September 28, 2009

Sri Lanka wounds 2 trying to flee refugee camp

By Bharatha Mallawarachi - Sri Lankan soldiers fired on a group of war refugees trying to flee a camp in the north of the island, wounding two, the military said Sunday.

The foiled escape bid happened late Saturday in the district of Vavuniya, near a former battle zone. The civil war between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels ended in May, but nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians are still held in military-run camps.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said residents had thrown stones at soldiers guarding the Manik Farm camp and tried to flee. He said the troops had to open fire in self-defense and to disperse the violent crowd.

Two people were wounded and another 19 inmates were put in police custody, he said, adding that the situation was under control.

Sri Lanka's government has come under intense pressure from human rights groups and other countries to free the hundreds of thousands of camp detainees. Rights groups say the detentions are an illegal form of collective punishment and warn that imminent monsoon rains could create health crises in the low-lying and congested camps.

Authorities say they are screening the camp inmates to arrest former guerrillas, and are clearing land mines from the Tamils' villages. President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently promised a visiting U.N. envoy that all displaced people would be returned home by the end of January.

Sri Lanka declared victory over the Tamil Tigers in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent state. The displaced civilians fled the last phase of fighting.

The U.N. estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the civil war.

Meanwhile, the government said Sunday it was seeking advice from the United States in its efforts to deal with more than 10,000 former rebel fighters held in custody.

Gamini Godakanda, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said attorney general Mohan Peiris and ministry secretary Suhada Gamlath have left for U.S. to study how it handled terrorist suspects.

They are expected to meet officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, he said.

© Associated Press

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