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Rights group asks Sri Lanka to stop detaining war refugees

[Reuters, Tuesday, 23 December 2008 16:19 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s government should ensure freedom of movement for civilians fleeing the heavy fighting in the far north and allow the return of aid agencies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.


The rights group, which called government welfare centres "badly disguised prisons", said some 1,000 Tamil civilians who fled the violence in the country’s far north, were being detained under military guard at these welfare centres.


"The Sri Lankan government should stop arbitrarily detaining civilians fleeing fighting in the northern Vanni region," the New York-based rights group said in report released on Tuesday.


It said around 230,000 people are trapped in war zone where Sri Lanka’s military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are locked in a bloody and decisive phase of one of Asia’s oldest civil wars.


HRW also said the government should urgently allow humanitarian agencies to return to the war zone to provide desperately needed aid. Sri Lanka had ordered humanitarian agencies including the United Nations to leave the area due to security concerns.


"The government’s policy violates the basic rights of displaced persons. Conditions in the camps are sub-standard, with inadequate shelter, a lack of sanitation facilities, and limited humanitarian assistance," HRW said.


The HRW report based on in-depth interviews with officials ranging from humanitarian organisations to war-hit civilians, mostly minority Tamils, said the government’s "detention policy is hurting the very people that the government should be helping."

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