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Squalid war camps threaten Sri Lanka's image: opposition

The government has promised to resettle 80 percent of some 300,000 ethnic minority Tamils who were displaced during the final stages of the war in the north by the end of this year. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Colombo (AFP) Aug 17, 2009
Sri Lanka risks further damage to its image by failing to improve conditions for tens of thousands of war-displaced people held in squalor, the island's main opposition leader said on Monday.

Opposition leader and former premier Ranil Wickremesinghe warned that the spread of diseases in the camps during the current rains could worsen conditions for nearly 300,000 civilians held in camps.

"Sri Lanka's image will be damaged further if the situation inside camps worsens during heavy rains," Wickremesinghe said. "The government will not be able to re-settle displaced people during monsoon showers."

Sri Lanka is already facing condemnation from international rights organisations and aid agencies for its treatment of the civilians who were displaced during fighting that ended in May.

However, the government has promised to resettle 80 percent of some 300,000 ethnic minority Tamils who were displaced during the final stages of the war in the north by the end of this year.

Heavy showers over the weekend lashed the northern Vavuniya district where most of the displaced people are housed in makeshift camps.

The rains washed away flimsy plastic shelters and wooden floor toilets, while damaged sewer lines flooded some parts of the camps, officials said.

Sri Lanka does not allow the displaced to leave the camps, while access for aid workers is severely restricted. The government says the military is in the process of screening people to weed out former Tamil Tigers fighters.

Vavuniya's top government official, P.S.M. Charles, said flooding has subsided despite moderate rain on Sunday.

"We are still providing cooked meals to about 500 people whose tents and belongings were damaged," she said, adding that those affected have now been moved to higher ground.

Government forces crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel group in May, ending the LTTE's four-decade struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, one of Asia's longest-running ethnic conflicts.

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