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US concerned over overcrowding of IDP camps in Sri Lanka

world Updated: Sep 22, 2009 09:54 IST

Expressing concern over the overcrowding of the IDP camps in Sri Lanka, the US has urged Rajapaksa Government to accelerate the process of screening of these shelters and demining operation so that people are not held there.

The Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, yesterday told reporters in New York that the United States is concerned about the situation of some 300,000 people still living in these camps.

"They have been there for more than three months now, and we are particularly concerned now because the monsoons are starting at the end of September. So there is still quite a severe problem of overcrowding in those camps," Blake said in response to a question.

Blake noted that there is a lot of consensus within the international community to urge Sri Lanka to move forward on these issues and to just underscore that this is an important part of the political reconciliation package as well.

"I mean, the longer you keep some of these IDPs (internally displaced persons) in these kinds of conditions, it tends to build up - again, problems. So it's important to release them," he said.

He acknowledged it is not going to be possible to resettle all of them right away because still, a lot of demining needs to be done in the north.

"But even if that process can get started and at least the IDPs have the option, and maybe they might choose to stay with relatives in the south somewhere, or they might just choose to stay in the camps, but we just think that it's important that principle of freedom of movement be honoured as it is around the world," he insisted.

Noting that the Lankans are also going through and screening the IDPs who are in the camps to try to see who among them might be still ex-combatants of the LTTE, Blake said: "That process has been going on, really, ever since they arrived in the camps. That's very important to try to figure that out. But our point only is that it just needs to be accelerated so that people aren't held in these conditions."