Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UN Sends Envoy to Survey Camps Housing Sri Lanka War Refugees

By Jay Shankar - The United Nation human-rights envoy will survey camps housing Tamils who fled the civil war in Sri Lanka, after the UN’s political chief said the pace of their release from the sites is “too slow.”

Under-Secretary-General Walter Kalin, who arrives today (22), will meet officials and travel to the camps in the north of the country to “see for himself the conditions of the displaced,” Gordon Weiss, spokesman for the UN in the capital, Colombo, said by phone. Kalin also visited the country in April.

Sri Lanka has been criticized for keeping more than 280,000 displaced Tamils in camps since the last forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were routed in May on the northeastern coast. The government says people will be resettled after landmines are cleared from former conflict zones and the northern region is secure.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, during a visit to the island nation last week, said “very clearly” that he hasn’t seen enough progress toward the terms of agreements between the UN and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, according to Weiss. “Some of those things relate to the displaced and the pace at which people are being released from the camps, which is too slow,” Pascoe said, according to Weiss.

Western nations should help Sri Lanka rebuild war-torn areas and stop criticizing the country over human rights and the treatment of displaced people, Rajapaksa said this month in an interview with France’s Le Figaro daily newspaper.

Rajapaksa’s government and the Tamil Tigers have been criticized by the UN over alleged human rights abuses during the conflict. The UN’s Philip Alston, an envoy looking into executions, on Sept. 7 called for an independent investigation into the authenticity of a video that is purported to show the army executing nine people.

The government has said it will cooperate with any UN inquiry and that four investigations it has carried out show the tape is a fake.

© Bloomberg

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