Sun, Nov 22, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka to open gates of internment camps

AFP , VAVUNIYA, SRI LANKA

Civilians displaced by fighting peer from behind the barbed wire fence that surrounds their internment camp in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, yesterday. Sri Lanka said it would allow those forcibly kept in such camps to come and go freely from next month.

PHOTO: AFP

Sri Lanka said yesterday it plans to let war-displaced civilians move freely in and out of internment camps ahead of completing their planned re-settlement in two months.

The announcement comes amid strong international pressure on Colombo to release tens of thousands of civilians held in the camps.

A total of 136,328 men, women and children remain inside camps across the island’s north, down from around 280,000 at the end of the fighting in May, when the Tamil Tiger guerrillas were defeated.

“We will allow complete freedom of movement,” senior presidential adviser Basil Rajapakse told inmates of the Manik Farm complex, the main facility housing displaced civilians.

The inmates of Manik Farm and other camps who are still being held by the government will be allowed to come and go freely from Dec. 1, he said.

The entire resettlement of internally displaced civilians will be completed according to schedule by Jan. 31, Rajapakse said at a ceremony at the complex, which lies 257km north of the capital.

The government had already said it planned to release most of the civilians by the end of January.

The adviser, who is the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, said the government wanted to complete the entire re-settlement by Jan. 31, a date promised to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A batch of 41,000 people were allowed to leave the camps last month, making it the biggest single release of war displaced people held in camps.

In May, Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who had been fighting since 1972 to carve out a separate nation in the Sinhalese-majority island.

The government has been widely criticized for holding refugees indefinitely, but it insisted it needed time to weed out Tiger fighters hidden among the displaced civilians.

The government has also said over 1.5 million mines must be cleared and basic infrastructure needs to be in place to allow returnees to resume their normal lives.

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