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UN ratchets up criticism of Sri Lankan camps

[AFP, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 16:21 No Comment]

The United Nations on Tuesday issued its strongest criticism yet of Sri Lanka over its continued internment of 250,000 people who fled fighting in the final stages of the island’s separatist war.

Walter Kaelin, a representative of the United Nations secretary-general, said civilians held in tightly-guarded camps should be granted freedom to ensure that the island complied with its international obligations.

"Immediate and substantial progress in restoring freedom of movement for the displaced is an imperative if Sri Lanka is to respect the rights of its citizens and comply with its commitments and obligations under international law," he said in a statement received here.

He criticised the slow screening of people in the camps for suspected Tamil Tiger rebels and called for unhindered humanitarian access to the camps by international and local aid workers.

Restoring freedom to the displaced "is becoming a matter of urgency, and I remain very concerned about the very slow pace of releases", Kaelin said, two days after wrapping up a visit to camps in the island’s north.

Kaelin, UN representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said a clash over the weekend between troops and people interred in a camp underscored the growing tensions and human rights abuses.

The incident "that resulted in injuries to two persons raises serious human rights issues", he said.

Sri Lanka has resisted repeated calls to free the civilians saying that the authorities need more time to screen the them and weed out suspected Tamil rebels.

The UN has said that up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first four months of the year while many more were wounded. Sri Lanka has denied targeting civilians and blamed Tigers for using civilians as a human shield.

Tiger rebels were defeated in May when the military wiped out their leadership. The offensive sparked international condemnation of the government’s handling of the final stages of the war.

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