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Tamil refugees to get freedom to move but not return home

Over 1.3 lakh Tamil refugees living in camps in north Sri Lanka would be allowed more freedom of movement from next month, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2009 19:31 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Over 1.3 lakh Tamil refugees living in camps in north Sri Lanka would be allowed more freedom of movement from next month.

Effectively, it means that from December 1 those living in the camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) would be allowed to attend family engagements or be treated in hospitals outside the camps if required, senior Presidential advisor, Basil Rajapaksa told HT.

``They can now freely move about. It will be like staying in a hostel or hotel. After the visit, they can come back to the camp,’’ Rajapaksa said.

But they cannot yet permanently return to their villages or towns of origin. ``Demining is still going on. We have only demined the battle fields. But humanitarian demining (or demining of civilian areas) is yet to be completed. But they can go villages where their relatives are and then come back to the camps,’’ he said.

Rajapaksa also announced Saturday morning that the Government had made arrangements to complete the resettlement of the IDPs by January 31 next month.

Rajapaksa, who is President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger brother, added that there were two reasons why the refugees’ freedom of movement was restricted. ``Everybody did not have identity cards. Now, everyone has been issued with temporary cards. Also, the camps are less crowded now. So, now it is easier to control (the remaining refugees,’’ he said.

But outsiders will not be allowed inside as the government fears that they would create trouble inside. ``There are visitors’ centres where outsiders could meet people from the camps,’’ Rajapaksa said.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime has been under pressure from the international community on the issue of restricting the freedom of movement of the IDPs, many of whom have been living in camps for months now.

The government has also been criticised for not putting in place a transparent mechanism to pick out remaining cadres or sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE were defeated by government forces in May this year.

But the resettlement programme of the government picked up pace since October and more than 100000 have been sent back home.

spatranobis@hindustantimes.com