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Citing increasing attacks, UN urges Sri Lanka to ensure safety for returnees

Citing increasing attacks, UN urges Sri Lanka to ensure safety for returnees

Displaced Sri Lankan families collect emergency shelter materials
The United Nations refugee agency has called on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure security for civilians in the eastern part of the strife-torn nation, citing a significant increase in the number of killings, abductions and injuries in areas of return, including 24 civilian deaths recorded in November alone in the Batticaloa district.

“We''re also worried about the negative impact these security incidents may have on the sustainability of the return process,” Ron Redmond, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva.

Most of the more than 200,000 people displaced during fighting between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the eastern districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa have returned home over the past two years.

However, returnees in the Batticaloa area report they increasingly feel intimidated and face restrictions on their movement, Mr. Redmond noted.

“More than 50 families have already left their villages in some of the return areas in Batticaloa due to fear and insecurity. Others are no longer sleeping in their own homes, but gather several families in one house at night,” he said.

UNHCR called on the Government to investigate the security incidents and urged the relevant authorities to provide adequate security to all civilians living in these areas.

The agency said it is also concerned about the abduction of four refugee returnees from India in the Trincomalee district.

“UNHCR is heartened by the fact that more than 1,500 Sri Lankan refugees returned from camps in Tamil Nadu in southern India in 2008, either spontaneously or with our facilitated voluntary return programme,” said Mr. Redmond. “We are keen to see this positive trend continue this year.”

UNHCR is also keeping a close eye on the situation in the country''s north, where some 250,000 people remain displaced due to intensified clashes in recent months.