Discussions on Friday between Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a senior UN official on the plight of the 2.8 lakh Tamil refugees languishing in camps did not throw up any sign that their fate would improve soon.
Rajapaksa told B Lynn Pasco, under-secretary-general for political affairs, that rehabilitation of the thousands of men, women and children depended on how fast the vast areas in north and north-eastern Sri Lanka could be de-mined. Rajapaksa’s assurance was that Sri Lanka will not take 16 years, like Croatia did, to complete de-mining. ``We do not intend taking so much time. I have laid down an initial target of 180 days to resettle at least 70% of the internally displaced persons (IDPs),’’ a statement from the President’s office said.
Pascoe met Rajapaksa after visiting the Vavuniya camps to get a first hand view ongoing de-mining, resettlement of IDPs and the IDP relief villages of Menik Farm. On Thursday night, he told reporters: "We have been concerned about the pace of progress since the secretary-general was out there," Pascoe said. "We're particularly concerned about the [refugees] in the camps, and getting them out, getting them home," he added On Friday, Pascoe handed a letter from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to Rajapaksa outlining the concerns of the international community on the developments regarding IDPs, the political process and a possible accountability mechanism.
Rights bodies across the world have accused the government of interning the refugees in camps where their freedom of movement was severely restricted. With the onset of the north-east monsoon, the condition of the refugees staying under flimsy tents is likely to deteriorate further.
Pascoe said while the President’s assurances regarding the resettlement of the IDPs were helpful, there was concern about the uncertainty of the government's plans.
On the issue of Tamil journalist, J Tissainayagam being handed over a 20-year jail term, Rajapaksa said the Attorney General had not asked for a maximum sentence. Rajapaksa said he did not expect the Attorney General to oppose a shorter sentence when the case came in appeal.