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Tamil refugees forced into sex rackets – The Australian

[MISC, Thursday, 2 July 2009 07:07 No Comment]

CONDITIONS for about 300,000 refugees forcibly detained in camps across Sri Lanka remain dire, with reports of a prostitution racket run by officials in a remote camp.

Aid workers told The Australian yesterday officials at the internally displaced people’s camp in Pulmoddai, a remote northeast region, are running the prostitution ring using women kept in the camp.

The Australian understands the allegations are the subject of a joint investigation between the Sri Lankan government and an aid organisation.

"It’s been brought to the attention of senior government officials but no one seems to be doing anything about it," said an aid worker, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

"It’s hard to know whether it’s coercive or not, but there is an average of three families living to a tent and it can be extremely difficult trying to get privacy. You can imagine the military coming in and asking for something in return for more space or more favours."

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Palitha Kohona described the claims as "absolute rubbish", but confirmed the government was investigating the reports.

"These (the military) are the guys who were winning the war – they could have raped every single woman on the way if they wanted to. Not one single woman was raped," he told The Australian last night.

"I am sure in a mass of people there may be individuals who want to make a quick buck one way or another, but you have to remember the tents are so close together you can’t do anything without the entire neighbourhood knowing. If you had a racket going, thousands of people would know about it."

A UN official said yesterday many families remained separated in the camps and that men and women believed to be Tamil Tiger fighters were being removed with "no due process or proper documentation, like arrest receipts, given to parents or guardians". "These issues are of huge concern for us," the official said. "The lack of freedom of movement is a violation of human rights under Sri Lanka’s own constitution."

The restrictions have heightened tensions in the camps, including a mass protest in the Ramanathan camp in the northern town of Vavuniya on Sunday in which IDPs tried to break down barbed-wire fences separating one camp zone – and many relatives – from another.

Tamilnet.com claimed two people were killed and at least two were injured when troops opened fire on the refugees.

But reports from aid workers in the camp suggested troops fired only into the air, causing no casualties, and that camp officials reached a compromise that allowed the IDPs movement between the two camps.

UN Sri Lanka co-ordinator Neil Buhne said camp conditions were slowly improving, thanks to better water and sanitation facilities.

"But the main thing is people are still inside these camps and they can’t go anywhere. The government has made public commitments to get 80 per cent of people back to their homes by the end of the year (after separating civilians from the fighters) but that’s going to be a difficult target to meet."

The Sri Lankan military crushed the Tamil Tiger rebel forces in May after a 26-year civil war. President Mahinda Rajapakse has committed to reaching a political settlement with the Tamil leaders that goes some way to addressing their grievances.

[Full Coverage]

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