UN chief welcomes decision to open refugee camps in Lanka
New York: UN chief Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Colombo`s decision to grant freedom of movement to the displaced Tamils living in the military guarded camps at the Northern Vayuniya district in Sri Lanka.
"The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the Government of Sri Lanka to grant increased freedom of movement to internally displaced persons (IDPs) still residing in camps in northern Sri Lanka," said a statement issued here by Ban`s spokesperson.
"These are steps which the UN has long been pressing for in its intensive engagement with the authorities in Sri Lanka, including during the Secretary-General`s own visit in May," it added.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s brother and chairman of the Task Force for Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Basil Rajapaksa, told reporters in Vavuniya that the government had taken this decision to respect the human rights of the displaced persons.
The government maintained strict restrictions over the displaced persons citing security reasons, and fearing a resurgence of LTTE loyalists.
Rajapaksa also noted and that present decision to ease restrictions would be in place till the end of January when all those displaced from the fighting are expected to be returned home. "We have decided to allow freedom of movement to these people from December 1," Rajapaksa declared.
"They are free to move in and out of the camps and could even go home if they wished."
The decision to allow them to venture out of the camps came soon after UN`s top official for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, who recently wrapped up his visit to Sri Lanka noted that the government was making good progress to send the IDPs home.
"The commitment of the government to resettle the IDPs is encouraging," he said, after his trip underlining that that more than half the displaced civilians in the welfare camps have been sent back to their villages.
Some 274,000 people were displaced during the final months of the conflict in Sri Lanka and then accommodated in closed camps in the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts.
The conditions in the refugee camps led to strong international criticism for human rights violations on the part of Sri Lankan government. Despite the returns of 150,000 displaced persons some 127,000 people still remain in the camps, according to the government.
"The Secretary-General also welcomes the release of over half of the IDPs from the camps, and encourages the Government to continue to prioritise the return of IDPs,"
Ban`s office said.
"The Secretary-General urges the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to work with the UN and other humanitarian partners to improve the quality of the returns process, including through consultation with the IDPs themselves, and to ensure the best possible assistance and services to returnees," it added.
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