Too soon to resettle east Sri Lanka refugees: UN (Sri Lanka)

COLOMBO: The United Nations yesterday distanced itself from a Sri Lankan government drive to resettle thousands of war refugees in a captured Tamil Tiger enclave in the island's east, saying conditions were not yet right.


The government has already resettled around 10,000 people in and around Vakarai in the northeast, but landmines are still being cleared, infrastructure has been destroyed and many reluctant refugees said they were pressured to go back.

"The conditions in Vakarai are not right for resettlement and there is work to be done on services and minimum conditions for return," said Amin Awad, head of UN refugee agency UNHCR in Sri Lanka.

"We feel that the minimum conditions of security, demining, removal of UXOs (unexploded ordnance), need to be put in place and also food stocks and quantities of relief items should be in place and some services like basic health."

Awad said UN staff at camps housing thousands of an estimated 155,000-165,000 people displaced in the restive eastern district of Batticaloa were handing out flyers telling refugees their rights.

"We are saying that we are not involved with this situation, we don't want to give the IDPs the impression that we are assisting or facilitating or promoting return," he added. "They have the right to information and the right not to involuntarily go."

The military says the area, effectively now a high security zone, is safe and Tiger-free and contractors have installed electricity transformers in Vakarai for the first time.

Some refugees living in camps in government-held territory in Batticaloa said last week they were reluctant to return, saying they had been pressured by authorities. Some said officials had even threatened to halt food and water handouts.

But others, some already displaced during earlier stages of a two-decade civil war that has killed around 68,000 people since 1983, were keen to go back to recover abandoned property and cattle and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.'Reuters

Von: 23.03.2007

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