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UN official presses Sri Lanka to free war-displaced

[AFP, Friday, 18 September 2009 08:05 No Comment]

A top UN official was due to wrap up a three-day visit to Sri Lanka on Friday after pressing the authorities to free tens of thousands of war-displaced civilians held in internment camps.

UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe is scheduled to meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse before leaving on Friday, a UN spokesman here said.

Pascoe visited a camp complex where more than 250,000 displaced people are held in state-run facilities, most of which are overcrowded and risk flooding during upcoming monsoon rains.

"I have travelled to many displaced camps throughout the world. And the situation is always the same. People don’t like to live in camps, in cramped conditions," Pascoe told reporters here on Thursday.

Pascoe declined to go into details, but added that he saw some efforts to provide facilities for the refugees, but added that people were impatient and wanted to go back to their homes at the earliest.

Pascoe was sent by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has voiced concern over delays in resettling Tamil civilians living in what the government calls are "welfare villages."

UN sources said he was following up on Colombo’s promise to Ban that 80 percent of the displaced people would be re-settled before the end of this year.

"His message has been to speed up resettlement and the government has explained the practical issues," a Sri Lankan official who declined to be named said.

A UN statement before Pascoe’s arrived here said he would discuss resettlement, political reconciliation and ways to probe alleged human rights violations during the conflict.

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 Security Council debate on the issue with support from China and Russia.

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