Colombo pledges to open Tamil refugee camps
Sri Lanka's government has pledged to let tens of thousands of civilians displaced during the war with the Tamil Tigers move freely between refugee camps until their permanent re-settlement, to be completed by the end of January.
AFP - Sri Lanka said Saturday 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.
Some 136,328 men, women and children still remain inside camps across the island's
north, down from 280,000 at the end of the fighting in May with the defeat of Tamil Tiger guerrillas.
"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 December 1, he said.
The entire resettlement of internally displaced civilians will be completed according to schedule by January 31, Rajapakse said at a ceremony at the complex which lies 257 kilometers (160 miles) 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 January 31, a date promised to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
A batch of 41,000 people were allowed to leave the camps in October, 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.