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Sri Lanka Needs More Time to Resettle Tamils, Minister Says

[Bloomberg, Friday, 24 July 2009 07:38 One Comment]

Sri Lanka will need extra time to resettle more than 280,000 ethnic Tamil civilians stranded in transit camps in the country’s north since fleeing a military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, the foreign minister said.

About 60 percent of displaced people should be able to return home within the 180-day period promised by the president in May, Rohitha Bogollagama said in an interview. The government earlier expected to resettle 80 percent in that period, he added.

“Logistics are a factor” in the delay, Bogollagama said yesterday on the Thai island of Phuket, where he attended a regional security forum. “We have to clear the area of land mines before we send people back to their respective villages.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on May 19 after its leaders were captured or killed in a last stand on a sliver of territory in the northeast, ending the group’s 26-year struggle for a separate Tamil homeland.

Thousands of civilians fled the conflict zone in January, when the military began a final offensive to drive the rebels from their northern bases, and were placed in camps that the United Nations says are overcrowded and lacking basic services.

Bogollagama said about 5,000 civilians have so far returned home after the areas where their villages are located were cleared of mines.

New LTTE Leader

Tamil Tiger chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders were killed in fighting near the port of Mullaitivu, the army said May 18. The LTTE this week appointed Selvarasa Pathmanathan, former head of the group’s international relations, to replace Prabhakaran.

Pathmanathan will “lead us into the next steps of our freedom struggle,” the group said in a statement issued from an undisclosed location. The LTTE said it has set up a head office, with working groups and an executive committee to take the struggle forward. At its peak, the Tamil Tigers controlled a quarter of the South Asian island nation’s territory.

“We find some people claiming to be leaders only for the purpose of seeking the funds and assets of the LTTE network,” Bogollagama said in the interview.

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One Comment »

  • Kamal David said:

    As long as they get it correct, I have NO problem them taking longer to work ou the resettlement process. They alos need to understand that more time they take it could become just like another labor camp in Lebenon. Then we will be all screwed. How do you prevent this, we need to chanel our energy towards working with the SL Government. If we contnue to badger them, there could be a eternal stalemate and who suffers, our own people now living in SL.