Friday, September 18, 2009

Sri Lankan War Refugees Impatient to Leave Camps, UN Envoy Says

By Paul Tighe - Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lankan refugees held in camps since the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in May are “impatient” to return to their homes, Lynn Pascoe, the United Nations political chief, said after visiting centers in the north.

“I saw some efforts under way to make areas suitable for resettlement,” Pascoe said, according to the UN. “I also met with people in the camps who want to leave and return to their homes, but cannot do so, and are understandably growing impatient and anxious about their future.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent Pascoe to Sri Lanka to press the government to speed up the resettlement of an estimated 280,000 displaced people. Rains flooded tents in camps last month, prompting international calls for the civilians to be allowed to leave before the monsoon season begins in the next two months.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says its plan to resettle the mainly Tamil civilians by December depends on ensuring security in the north and clearing mines from conflict areas. The army defeated the last forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a battle on the northeastern coast in May, ending their fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation.

Pascoe, who is scheduled to meet with Rajapaksa in the capital, Colombo, today, went to two transit camps and a rehabilitation center for former LTTE members in the northern city of Jaffna as well as visiting Manik Farm, the camp in Vavuniya housing the most displaced people, the UN said.

Letter From Ban

The envoy will deliver a letter to Rajapaksa outlining the “concerns of the international community,” Ban said at a news conference in New York yesterday.

An “intolerable” number of civilians are “effectively detained under conditions of internment,” Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner, said in Geneva earlier this week.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister for disaster management and human rights, rejected the assertion, telling the Human Rights Council that the government is undertaking a program providing relief, resettlement and reconciliation for displaced people.

The government has information that Tamil Tiger members infiltrated the camps, the minister said.

People “can and will be permitted to leave the relief villages and welfare centers once they are screened,” he told the Council.

More than 167,900 displaced people have been registered, Samarasinghe said. Since May, 14,500 have been cleared to live with relatives and more than 31,000 have been united with their families, he said.

Workers Detained

Pascoe said he intends to discuss with Rajapaksa the detention of two UN workers arrested in the north in June and the recent expulsion of a spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund.

A special UN envoy last week called for an independent investigation into whether a video appearing to show the army executing nine people is authentic. Sri Lanka has said it will cooperate with any UN probe and that four investigations the government carried out show the tape is a fake.

While Sri Lanka has carried out a prompt investigation, the legal obligation on a government is to undertake a “thorough, prompt and impartial” probe, Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said yesterday.

Alston said in a statement he’s not in a position to conclude that the probe was thorough or that it met the criteria for impartiality.

There are issues that warrant further study to ascertain whether the video is authentic and “the only way to do this is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place,” Alston said.

© Bloomberg

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