Sri Lanka has pledged to send home nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils being
held in refugee camps. The
assurance to send them home by the end of January came as a top United
Nations envoy visited the country to urge the government to hasten the
resettlement of people displaced by the fighting with Tamil Tiger
The promise to allow the Tamil refugees to return to
their villages was made during a meeting Friday in Colombo between Sri
Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and U.N. Under Secretary General for
Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe.
Pascoe, who is visiting Sri
Lanka, met the President to press him to speed up the release of more
than a quarter million Tamil refugees, who remain confined in camps
four months after the military crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels. They had
fled their homes to escape the fighting between the two sides.
government has come under international criticism for the slow pace at
which the refugees have been released. So far only 15,000 have been
allowed to leave the camps.
Sri Lanka is assuring that will
change. A statement from the President's office said that the refugees
will be sent back as soon as the areas where they lived are cleared of
mines. It said new demining equipment will allow all the Tamil
civilians to be resettled by end of January.
U.N. spokesman in
Colombo, Gordon Weiss, welcomed the pledge, pointing out that the
conditions in which the refugees are living "are less than ideal."
such statement by the President accompanied by measurable progress is
very welcome," he said. "The return of displaced persons to their homes
would be a very visible sign and measurable sign of progress in Sri
The government says it has detained the refugees because
it needs to demine the villages, and it wants to screen the people and
weed out any former Tamil Tiger militants.
After a visit to several refugee camps, Pascoe had said that "noone should be kept in such conditions longer than necessary."
also raised the issue of a mechanism to address the issue of alleged
human rights violations conducted during the war. So far Sri Lanka has
turned down international calls to investigate violations.
Lanka's quarter century long civil war ended this May after the
government inflicted a decisive defeat on the Tamil Tigers, who had
fought for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community.