In Sri Lanka, UN political chief visits camps for displaced

17 September 2009
Clearing landmines near Elephant Pass, close to Jaffna in Sri Lanka

The United Nations political chief travelled today to northern Sri Lanka to get a first-hand look at the situation of displaced civilians living in Government-run camps, and the status of preparations for their resettlement.

“I saw some efforts under way to make areas suitable for resettlement, both through clearing landmines and rehabilitating schools and economic infrastructure, said B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who arrived in the country yesterday.

“I also met with people in the camps who want to leave and return to their homes, but cannot do so, and are understandably growing impatient and anxious about their future,” he added.

In May the Government declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending more than two decades of fighting. There are some 280,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in camps in northern Sri Lanka.

Mr. Pascoe, accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hussein Bhaila, visited Mannar, where he witnessed preparations to construct a water reservoir for resettled communities, and received a briefing and demonstration by the armed forces on progress in clearing mines from the surrounding Mannar Rice Bowl region.

The delegation then visited two IDP camps and a rehabilitation centre for former LTTE members in Jaffna, before concluding the field visit at the Manik Farms camp in Vavuniya, the largest of the country’s IDP camps.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his concern about developments regarding the IDPs, as well as the political process and a possible accountability mechanism for alleged human rights violations committed during the armed conflict.

Speaking at his monthly news conference in New York, Mr. Ban said he had discussed these issues with President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Monday, and then dispatched Mr. Pascoe to follow up.

“I have asked him to deliver my letter to the President outlining the concerns of the international community and immediately report back to me,” said the Secretary-General, who also reiterated his concern at the continued detention without charge of two UN staff members in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Pascoe is expected to conclude the two-day visit tomorrow in Colombo, where he will meet with President Rajapaksa and other Government officials, as well as with opposition and Tamil politicians, members of civil society and UN representatives.


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