3RD LEAD (adds UN, TNA comments)

‘From one prison to another’: Sri Lanka’s ‘resettlement’

[TamilNet, Saturday, 19 September 2009, 08:31 GMT]
Under international pressure as the monsoon looms, the Sri Lanka government is hastily engaged in relocating some of the displaced Tamils being held in militarised internment camps in Vavuniyaa. However, the inmates are being moved from Vavuniyaa’s barbed-wire ringed camps to similar overcrowded enclosures without facilities in other districts, sources in Jaffna said. Moreover these camps are also located in low-lying terrain in the path of oncoming floods, NGO workers say. “There is no resettlement. This is like being sent from one prison to another prison," Mavai Senathiraja, a parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said.

On Friday the UN's political chief Lynn Pascoe said the government had not lived up to its pledges on resettlement to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May.

"We have not seen the progress we expected from that agreement," he said of a deal between Colombo and Ban in May, just after the government declared the decades-long war was over.

Just over one thousand people were brought from Vavuniyaa camps to Raamavil detention camps in Kachchaai in Thenmaraadchi Friday and these already crowded camps are facing severe shortage of space, NGO officials who visited the camps said.

The government appears to be determined to detain the IDPs indefinitely in the camps, civil society sources in Jaffna said.

Senathiraja told the Associated Press 6,000 of those promised release last week by the government were from his constituency in northern Jaffna, but only 580 arrived in the area and all of them were immediately sent to another camp, where they continue to be detained.

In the eastern districts of Ampara and Trincomalee, many returning refugees were being held in schools that have been turned into makeshift camps, he also said.

Despite the government’s removal of people from Vavuniya ostensibly being in response to international concerns over the imminent monsoon, the camps in Thenmaraadchi too are directly at risk of severe flooding.

These camps have also been erected in low lying terrain, face the risk heavy flooding and the situation is further worsened by the earthen dams constructed in these areas by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in the past, NGO workers said.

Government officials are actively engaged in identifying persons from Jaffna district among the IDPs detained in Vavuniyaa camps to be located in Jaffna camps.

Though it is said that the existing camps in Jaffna are to be extended there are no signs of extension of camp facilities taking place.

Situation in the detainment camps is feared to grow worse as they already lack basic facilities while thousand more are to be herded into these camps, NGO representatives expressed concern.

"Clearly, the government is making a lot of effort, but we have some strong concerns -- particularly the 'closed' nature of the camps," UN’s Political chief Pascoe was quoted by AFP as saying after touring camps where Tamil civilians are held in what international human rights groups say are prison-like conditions.

"We picked up great frustrations. I was told by many that they just wanted to go home," Pascoe added. "I urged the government to allow people who were screened to be allowed to leave."

Meanwhile, though much publicity was made that students from Ki’linochchi, Mullaiththeevu districts detained in Vavuniyaa detention camps will be participating in the Sports Meet organized by Northern Province Education Ministry in Jaffna, only around 20 students held in Raamavil camp in Thenmaraadchi were transported to the event, sources in Jaffna said.

Northern Province Governor, G. A. Chandrasiri, Minister Douglas Devananda Ministry of Education Secretary and Education Officials were present in the sports event in Alfred Duraippah Stadium in Jaffna which began around 2:00 p.m Friday.


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