Friday, November 20, 2009

UN presses for freedom for Sri Lanka war-displaced

The United Nations on Thursday stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka to free thousands of war-displaced civilians held in state-run internment camps.

"Months after the conflict ended, our main concerns haven't changed. People are still not given free access to leave these camps on their own free will," UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told AFP after a visit to the camps.

Holmes, who ended a three-day visit on Thursday, said some 130,000 men, women and children remained inside the tightly-guarded camps.

More needs to be done to improve their living conditions, the UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs added.

"We are very much encouraged by the government's progress to resettle people. There were about 288,000 people in May (when the conflict ended) and now its much less," Holmes said.

He asked the government to allow those returning to their villages a greater say in their resettlement.

"People need to be consulted as much as possible on where they are going, the status of their homes, their livelihoods."

"But I must say that those who have been allowed to return are quite relieved to get out of the camps and rebuild their lives with what little they have."

He inspected demining efforts and visited the Manik Farm area in the island's north where most of the displaced civilians are being held.

He said the government appears to be on track to resettle displaced people by January 2009.

"But we have some doubts. There are bound to be areas where demining is not finished. Our concern is what's going to happen to these people who cant go back to their villages. Where will they stay once the camps are emptied?"

He said some may opt to live in the state-run makeshift shelters until their villagers were cleared of mines.

"In that case, freedom of movement becomes more crucial. People should be free to leave the site for jobs or visit friends and relatives until its safe to return."

During a news conference with Holmes, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama repeated Colombo's promise to allow war-displaced people leave the camps at their will.

The foreign minister did not elaborate, but sought more assistance from the UN to clear mines.

Sri Lanka's military in October estimated that there could be up to 1.5 million mines scattered across the island's north.

In May, Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who were fighting for a separate homeland since 1972.


Related Links:
UN confirms Tamil camps exodus - BBC News
Sri Lanka Seeks UN Aid as Envoy Visits War Refugees - Bloomberg
Resettlement quickened for Sri Lanka war displaced - eTaiwan News

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