Monday, September 21, 2009

UN refugee envoy to visit Sri Lanka

The United Nations is sending a top official to Sri Lanka this week to press for the speedy resettlement of 300,000 war-displaced, officials said Monday, the second UN visit in as many weeks.

Walter Kalin, the UN Secretary-General's envoy for refugee rights, will arrive late Wednesday for a five-day visit that includes a tour to camps holding tens of thousands of refugees, Sri Lanka's Human Rights Ministry said.

His trip comes a week after the visit of the UN's political chief, Lynn Pascoe, who expressed concern over the plight of refugees and also urged Sri Lanka to investigate rights abuses during the final stages of the civil war.

"Mr. Kalin will meet with senior government officials, international aid agencies, including UN staff, and also visit some sites holding internally displaced people (IDPs)," a ministry official said.

UN sources here said Kalin would press for improved conditions for the Tamil civilians held in internment camps.

"He will follow up promises made by the government to resettle the IDPs at the earliest," said a UN official who declined to be named.

The displaced are being held in "welfare villages" and the government says they cannot be allowed freedom of movement until authorities finish screening them for remaining Tamil rebels.

Pascoe last week said the Sri Lankan government was not making sufficiently fast progress in implementing a deal between Colombo and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May.

The agreement was for the speedy resettlement of the civilians who were displaced after the end of fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

"We have not seen the progress we expected from that agreement," Pascoe said.

Pascoe also urged Sri Lanka to set up a mechanism for "truth seeking" into alleged excesses by government forces during the final stages of the war.

Kalin toured Sri Lanka in April, just weeks before Sri Lankan troops crushed Tamil Tiger rebels who had been waging a guerrilla war for a homeland since 1972.


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