Australia reluctant to call for closure of camps, release of IDPs

[TamilNet, Monday, 24 August 2009, 11:48 GMT]
While expressing serious concern about the civilian toll of the conflict, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officials conveyed to a delegation of the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) that Australia’s trade relations with Sri Lanka has been very strong from time immemorial and Australia wants to maintain this relationship, and further to nurture that, Australia is keen on seeing a united Sri Lanka. While continuing to insist that the IDP camps be administered in line with international standards, Australia is reluctant to call for a closure of these camps and release of the innocent IDPs as soon as possible, DFAT officials told the Tamil delegation last week.

The officials also told the AFTA delegation that Australia considers Sri Lanka and Australia as two islands in the Indian Ocean meaning that both countries have to have close cooperation in various matters of mutual interest.

Assistant Secretary Mr David Holly and Executive Officer, India Sri Lanka Ms Cecilia Brennan, both from the South and West Asia Branch of DFAT, participated in the meeting.

AFTA delegation gave a presentation focussing on the following 3 urgent matters:
  • Sri Lanka flouting International Human Rights and Humanitarian law in the name of counter-terrorism, particularly the treatment of IDPs in the camps under the present flood situation.
  • Sri Lanka issuing threats to members of the Tamil Diaspora who are citizens of other countries and the recent conduct of carrying out Extraordinary Rendition in removing a person from foreign soil and taking him to Sri Lanka by illegal means.
  • Despite denials by Sri Lankan government officials including former DFAT official, Palitha Kohona, mounting Satellite and Human intelligence points to grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and the laws of war by the Sri Lankan state amounting to “war crimes” during the final phase of the war.
In response to this presentation, the DFAT officials expressed the following positions of the Australian government, AFTA officials told TamilNet,
  • Military hostilities concluded in northern Sri Lanka in May this year after decades of conflict.
  • The civilian toll of the conflict has been and remains a matter of serious concern to the Australian government. 
  • Australia consistently and repeatedly called for the protection of civilians to be the absolute priority for all sides in the conflict. 
  • Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has spoken directly to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, about these matters on a number of occasions, most recently in Phuket on 23 July during the ASEAN Regional Forum meetings. 
  • Australia will continue to call upon the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps are administered in line with international standards, and to ensure that international observers, particularly International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations personnel, have unimpeded access to the IDP camps. 
  • Australian High Commission in Colombo is monitoring the situation in northern Sri Lanka and is making representations to senior members of the Sri Lankan Government about conditions in the government camps and plans for resettlement. 
  • Several High Commission staff members visited the camps in Vavuniya in mid June where they observed conditions and engaged with members of the United Nations, NGOs and government agencies working there. 
  • Some residents of the camps have been released and reunited with their families. 
  • Australia believes that early resettlement of all affected civilians is crucial. Australia welcomes the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to resettle over 80 per cent of civilians from the IDP camps by the end of 2009 
  • It is important that the Sri Lankan Government works to meet this commitment. 
  • Australia is committed to providing help to the affected civilians in Sri Lanka. Since December 2008, the Australian Government has provided $24.5 million to meet the critical needs of civilians adversely affected by the conflict 
  • This assistance included food aid, medical supplies, shelter, water and sanitation. 
  • It has been delivered through UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a number of Australian NGOs. 
  • Australia’s trade relationship with Sri Lanka is very old and strong and Australia intends to continue this and strengthen further and towards this end Australia like to see a united Sri Lanka. 
  • Australia considers Sri Lanka and Australia as two island nations in the Indian Ocean region.
The meeting took place in a cordial environment and both sides agreed to meet in the future on a need basis, according to AFTA officials.


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