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UN refugee agency cautiously greets Sri Lanka opening

[AFP, Saturday, 5 December 2009 10:27 No Comment]

The UN refugee agency said on Friday that it was encouraged by "increased freedom of movement" for war-displaced civilians in Sri Lanka who have been in internment camps in the north of the island.

"We are encouraged by the Sri Lankan government?s long-awaited decision this week to allow increased freedom of movement for some 135,000 internally displaced people," said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

"We hope as this new freedom of movement continues and the Internally Displaced People are fully informed of the process, inconsistencies across the different camps and districts and bureaucratic obstacles will be ironed out so that all IDPs will be able to exercise their right to full freedom of movement," he added.

Some 288,000 people were displaced during the final stages of the conflict after government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels and ended a 37-year-old conflict civil war.

Sri Lanka this week started granting free movement to the remaining war-displaced civilians held in internment camps, meeting a key demand of the international community.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said that nearly 70 percent of those displaced have been resettled in their villages in the island’s north and east.

Sri Lanka has promised to resettle displaced people by the end of January next year.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that people were still leaving camps.

"According to our teams on the ground, many people left their belongings in the camps, which is an indication that they intend to return to the camps," said Mahecic.

"While authorities say that there is no time limitation to the freedom of movement, there were reports that Internally Displaced People would only be allowed to stay away from the camps up to ten days."

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