25 August 2009

Sri Lanka Deploys more Troops to Speed Up Mine Clearing in North

24th August 2009, www.bloomberg.com

Sri Lanka said it is deploying more troops to speed up mine clearing in former conflict zones in the north and allow more than 280,000 mostly Tamil refugees to leave transit camps and return home.

“We do not want to take a risk as the government is responsible for ensuring the safety of internally displaced people,” Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said, according to the Defense Ministry’s Web site yesterday.

The army will have to recruit between 25,000 and 50,000 new personnel as it has to maintain security in the north after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May ended a 26- year civil war, Jayasuriya said.

Sri Lanka’s government is being pressed by the U.S. and United Nations to speed up the return of refugees who have been held in camps since the LTTE was defeated. Rains flooded centers earlier this month, prompting international aid officials to warn of outbreaks of disease.

“De-miners have to dig nine inches to determine whether each patch of land is mined,” the ministry cited Jayasuriya as saying in a newspaper interview. He didn’t give any date for the operation being completed.

Ninety percent of displaced people have returned to their homes in the Mannar district in the northwest, the Ministry of Defense said yesterday without giving detailed figures. About 3,000 people have been resettled in the northern Jaffna region and 4,000 in the east, it said.

Tamil Homeland

The army defeated the LTTE’s last units in a battle near the northeastern port of Mullaitivu, killing leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders and ending its fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east. Kumaran Pathmanathan, the man appointed to replace Prabhakaran, was arrested Aug. 5 in an unidentified Southeast Asian country and brought to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, for questioning.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says it needs to ensure security in the war zones. LTTE terrorists are masquerading as civilians and living among the refugees in camps, Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in an interview with Sri Lanka’s daily Island newspaper last week.

The government said last week it is installing a drainage system at the Manik Farm camp in Vavuniya, where most refugees are held. The project is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 15, Mahinda Samarasinghe, the disaster management and human rights minister, said.

Displaced people should be given the choice of leaving the camps, Eric Schwartz, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in Washington last week.

Human Rights Watch last week appealed for the refugees to be allowed to live with friends and host families to avoid deteriorating conditions at the centers.

“The government has detained people in these camps and is threatening their health and even their lives by keeping them there during the rainy season floods,” Brad Adams, the New York- based group’s Asia director, said. “This is illegal dangerous and inhumane.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at ptighe@bloomberg.net.

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