Sri Lanka vows to resettle Tamils within 6 months
Sri Lanka has promised to resettle within the next six months most of the estimated 280,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the final battles of the South Asian nation's civil war.
The Sri Lankan government made the pledge following President Mahinda Rajapaksa's meeting on Thursday with two senior envoys from the government of India. It comes amid growing international concern over the humanitarian situation in the crowded, fenced-in camps where the displaced civilians are being kept.
In a joint statement, both governments said they had agreed on the urgent need to resettle the civilians in their villages in the northeast as soon as possible.
"The government of Sri Lanka indicated that it was their intention to dismantle the relief camps at the earliest and outlined a 180-day plan to re-settle the bulk of (displaced) to their original places of habitation," the statement said.
India promised help with demining the former war zone and rebuilding homes and infrastructure, said the joint statement.
Aid groups say their access to the camps has been greatly restricted and human rights groups accuse Tamil militias of abducting children there.
Earlier this week, Rajapaksa declared Sri Lanka had been "liberated" from terrorism following the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebel group and the killing of its top leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The United Nations says 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 wounded in the fighting from Jan. 20 until May 7, during the government's final offensive aimed at ending the country's bloody 25-year civil war. Health officials in the area said more than 1,000 others have been killed since then.
Canadian Tamil groups and protesters have demanded Ottawa pressure Sri Lanka to lift restrictions on the camps and allow aid groups and international monitors into the area.
Casualty figures have been nearly impossible to verify because the Sri Lankan government has barred all independent reporters from the conflict zone.
The Tamil Tigers were banned in Canada as a terrorist group in 2006 for their use of child soldiers and suicide bombers during the country's civil war, which has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
With files from The Associated Press