09/09/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Military prepared to release Tamil refugees if family ready to house them

by Melani Manel Perera
People with relatives in refugee camps can get them out if they are ready to house them. The government allocates US$ 1.1 million for refugees. De-mining former war zones is not yet completed.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Sri Lankan government is ready to release Tamil refugees who can demonstrate that relatives are willing to house them in their places of origin. As part of this initiative the authorities are gearing up to launch a press campaign to inform northerners about it.

The military, which is in charge of 33 refugee camps and nine hospitals holding a total of 265,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), is prepared to release refugees on condition that relatives or friends provide them with shelter in their places of origin. 

When the civil war ended last May President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government pledged the rapid resettlement of Tamil refugees, setting a delay of 180 days to complete the process, starting in April. Now many fear it will not be able to keep its promise.

The military blames the slow pace of resettlement on the difficulties related to clearing the northern regions of all the mines laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Humanitarian organisations and other civil society group claim instead that camps are being kept open by the military who are bent on checking each and every refugee for possible links to the Tigers.

R. Sampanthan, head of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), is never the less satisfied with the government’s initiative. On Monday his party had called on the government to keep its promises.

“We wanted the government to minimise the difficulties of the IDPs and the government assured [us] that de-mining will be accelerated to enable the early resettlement of IDPs,” he said.

In the meantime Sri Lankan authorities have allocated 250 million rupees (US$ 1.1 million) to provide more food, drinking water and health care to refugees living in camps near Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee.

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