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Britain demands freedom for Sri Lanka war victims

[AFP, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 20:30 No Comment]

capt.photo_1254842235410-1-0 Britain on Tuesday expressed disappointment with Sri Lanka’s handling of war-displaced civilians and demanded that they be given the freedom to leave state-run camps.

"Freedom of movement is critical if a humanitarian crisis is to be averted," visiting British Development Minister Mike Foster said after touring the camps, where over 250,000 civilians are being detained.

Foster, who began a two-day visit Tuesday, also voiced concern over the conditions in the camps.

Britain was helping Sri Lanka with resettlement as well as de-mining, he said adding, however, that he was "disappointed" with Sri Lanka’s progress in allowing civilians to return to their homes in former war-zones.

Foster said 4.8 million pounds (7.6 million dollars, 5.2 million euros) is currently in the pipeline to assist Sri Lanka in resettlement work, but added that it could not use the money to transfer people from one camp to another.

"Mike Foster made clear that Britain’s funding could not support people simply being transferred from existing ‘closed’ camps – which detain civilians for long periods of time – to new ‘closed’ camps," the British High Commission (Embassy) said in a statement. "Freedom of movement has to be allowed now."

Foster told reporters in Colombo that British aid in the post-monsoon season should be allocated to resettlement programmes, de-mining, and livelihood support programmes, not geared towards sustaining people in the camps.

"Our view is that those camps should not be permanent, should be a temporary fixture, and if we continue to fund day-to-day relief work then there is no incentive for the government to allow people to leave," Foster said.

He said Britain will also talk to other foreign donors to see if they would agree to withhold aid after the rains cease in a bid to force Colombo to dismantle the camps and free people.

In May, Sri Lanka ended decades of ethnic conflict after killing the top Tamil rebel leadership. Civilians who managed to escape the fighting have been held in internment camps which the government calls "welfare villages."

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