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UN official visits Sri Lanka refugee camps

[AFP, Thursday, 17 September 2009 09:42 No Comment]

A top UN official toured camps holding thousands of war-displaced civilians in northern Sri Lanka on Thursday, amid concerns over delays in resettling the refugees.

UN under secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe, who arrived here late Wednesday, travelled to the northwestern district of Mannar and was to visit the main internment camps in the adjoining district of Vavuniya.

UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said Pascoe was also visiting the northern peninsula of Jaffna before returning to the capital and meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse for talks on Friday.

He was sent by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has voiced concern over delays in resettling the Tamil civilians living in the government-run camps.

Pascoe’s discussions here would focus on "the resettlement of internally displaced persons, political reconciliation and the establishment of a mechanism of accountability for alleged human rights violations in the context of the conflict," a UN statement said before he arrived here on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls for war crimes investigations into its recent crushing of the long-running Tamil separatist insurgency and managed to stave off a UN Security Council debate on the issue thanks to support from China and Russia.

The UN has said that up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first few months of this year when security forces escalated their offensive against the remnants of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Pascoe told reporters in New York on Monday that Ban was concerned about the slow implementation of commitments given to the UN chief when he visited the island after the end of the fighting in May.

Colombo had promised Ban that 80 percent of displaced people would be sent back to their homes before the end of this year.

A decisive battle ended the four-decade struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, one of Asia’s longest-running ethnic conflicts, which left between 80,000 and 100,000 people dead.

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