Home » Related

Sri Lanka pledges to release Tamil detainees from internment camps

[Times Online UK, Monday, 23 November 2009 09:09 No Comment]

Sri Lanka has pledged to free 136,000 Tamil civilians held in internment camps by December 1 and close the controversial facilities by the end of January.

Almost 300,000 Tamils were forced into the squalid camps after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May, because the Government said it needed to “screen” them and clear mines from their villages.

It promised to free 80 per cent by the end of the year, and has so far released more than 150,000. International pressure is mounting to release the remainder from what rights groups are calling a form of collective punishment.

The decision to bring forward their release was announced at the weekend by Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother of and a senior adviser to President Rajapaksa. “We will allow complete freedom of movement,” he told those held in the Manik Farm camp.

The barbed wire enclosures, which are guarded by the Army, have been among the most controversial aspects of the Government’s successful campaign to end the island’s 26-year civil war.

Authorities insist the camps meet international standards, but they have refused to allow reporters access — except on brief tours organised by the Army. The announcement came two days after John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, visited the camps and urged the Government to release detainees.

The move also followed the recent resignation from the Army of General Sarath Fonseka, who led the campaign against the Tigers and is now expected to stand against President Rajapaksa in presidential elections due by April. Relations between General Fonseka and the President deteriorated after he was dismissed as head of the Army in July.

He accused the President of failing to capitalise on the military victory, and dragging out the resettlement process. President Rajapaksa is expected to announce the election date today — after consultations with astrologers. Some officials said January 23 was the most likely date.

The promise to free the remaining detainees was cautiously welcomed by Western governments and international organisations, which have been providing most of the funding for the camps. However, many expressed concern that the Government had not shared details of its plans to resettle the detainees, or allowed international organisations to observe or assist.

“Granting genuine freedom, to decide their own future, will be a major relief for those still trapped in the camps,” said Mike Foster, Britain’s Minister for International Development. “Humanitarian agencies must now be allowed to give them the help they need, in all the places they return to.”

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.