UN 'concerned' over Sri Lanka camps

UN political head worried by slow pace of return for displaced Tamils.

    Hundreds of thousands of people are being
    kept in government-run camps [EPA]

    "We're particularly concerned about the [refugees] in the camps, and getting them out, getting them home.

    "The secretary-general said that he would like for me to go out fairly quickly to deal with follow-up issues and where they're going.

    "President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa agreed and so I'll be on the plane tomorrow with a small team."

    Rights discussions

    Pascoe is expected to visit camps in the north of the island and meet Rajapaksa and other dignitaries over several days.

    Focus: Sri Lanka
    Q&A: Sri Lanka's civil war
    The history of the Tamil Tigers
    Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka
    'High cost' of victory over Tigers
    Caught in the middle
    Ban and Rajapaksa spoke by telephone on Monday, talking about human rights issues, political dialogue with the Tamils and alleged accountability for rights abuses committed by both sides during the war.

    Pascoe said that "a whole range of human rights issues need to be discussed", but added that he thought rights violations were not the sole responsibility of the government.

    Colombo promised to allow 80 per cent of the approximately 280,000 Tamils in state-run camps to return home by the end of 2009, and Western governments and the UN are becoming increasingly aware of the prolonged nature of the process.

    UN explusion

    Many rights groups have said that those in the camps are living in derisory conditions and for longer than necessary.

    The government has said that it needs to separate possible Tamil Tiger fighters from the IDPs and clear land mines before resettlement takes place.

    The fate of two UN employees in prison in Sri Lanka, accused by the government of collalorating with the LTTE, is also of concern to the organisation. They have been held since June, yet have so far not been charged.

    Additionally, a Unicef (UN children's fund) spokesman was expelled from Sri Lanka recently, being accused by the government of bias towards the Tamils, which the agency denied.

    Both cases were discussed by Ban and Rajapaksa on Monday, Pascoe said.

    The LTTE fought for four decades for an independent ethnic-minority homeland in the north of the island. The conflict left between 80,000 and 100,000 people dead.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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