More than 200,000 leave Sri Lanka Tamil camps: UNHCR

27th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

More than 200,000 of some 280,000 mainly Tamil people displaced after the civil war in northern Sri Lanka have left their camps since last August, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the government allowed returns to resume last week following a three week pause due to the country's elections, leading to the departure of 7,000 internally displaced people since then.

"207,000 IDPs have left the camps in the north and east of the country since the organised return process began in August last year," the spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, told journalists.

"They have either returned to their homes or are staying with friends and relatives in Vavuniyam, Mannar, Jaffna and other districts."

About 25,000 families -- some 82,000 people -- are left in camps or still with host families in the Meniak Farm area, largely because they had nowhere to go after their homes were destroyed in the war, Mahecic added.

An estimated 288,000 people were displaced during the final stages of the conflict last year after government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in bitter fighting and ended a 37-year-old civil war.

But many of the mainly Tamil civilians were held in internment camps and Sri Lanka only started granting them free movement last December, following pressure from the international community.

Sri Lanka had promised to resettle displaced people in the north and east by the end of January.

"There are detention camps for former combatants, but these are camps where we have not had access," added Mahecic.

"We estimate there could be 12,000 people in these sites," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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