Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 15:17 UK

Tamil refugees are allowed home

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Displaceed Sri Lankan Tamils returning home
Many of those leaving in the camps had no freedom of movement

More than 4,000 Tamil people living as refugees in camps in northern Sri Lanka have been sent home to their villages in the north and east of the country.

The government says they include the first batch of people resettled from the Menik Farm camps where conditions created international controversy.

The Menik Farm complex, near the town of Vavuniya, houses nearly 300,000 people displaced because of the war.

Until today no one aged between 10 and 60 has been allowed to leave.


The government says it is still screening people to root out anyone associated with the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

File photo of displaced Tamil civilians in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, June 2009
Sri Lanka says it needs money to help displaced Tamils

At a ceremony in the town, 1,100 left for home.

They are a special cases: all of them come from areas where the fighting ended quite long ago - eastern Sri Lanka and Jaffna in the far north.

But all were visiting the areas of the final heavy fighting and were stranded amid the violence.

Later another batch of people, more than 3,000 were similarly sent home from more long-standing camps within Jaffna district.

The military-run camps at Menik Farm are highly controversial, especially because those living there have no freedom of movement and many women have been separated from their men folk whom the authorities have been questioning separately.

But the government has repeatedly said it hopes the bulk of the refugees will have left by the end of the year.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona recently said that "300,000 screenings is not an easy task".

One of the most senior officials involved in Sri Lanka's resettlement programme, the president's brother and special advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, told the ceremony in Vavuniya that terrorism had been "wiped out" following the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year and there was a new chance for people to live in peace and unity.

Both Vavuniya and Jaffna face local elections on Saturday, but the camps fall outside the voting areas.

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