Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 15:43 UK

UN patience wears thin in S Lanka

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

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

The UN says it cannot continue indefinitely to fund the main refugee camp in Sri Lanka where the government is keeping nearly 300,000 people.

The Menik Farm camp holds the Tamils who fled the fighting in the months before the civil war ended in May.

The UN refugee agency says that about 2,000 Tamil civilians have returned to their villages after being released from the camp.

They are the first among a batch to leave over the coming days.

A ceremony was held in the town of Vavuniya to see off those people whom the government has allowed to leave the Menik Farm camp, destined for their villages in the far north and the east.

They included about 75 students from Jaffna University and many families.

The government says they are part of a group of nearly 10,000 who will return in the coming days.

The numbers are small compared with the 250,000 or so who remain at Menik Farm, unable to leave.

But UN figures suggest they are the largest group so far released from the controversial camp, where the authorities say they are screening people for possible links to the Tamil Tigers.

Most of those freed up to now have been children and the elderly, but there have been some who do not fall into such categories.

The head of the UN in Sri Lanka has meanwhile told the BBC that civilians living in the camp should be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

UN agencies help fund and run the camps but there are signs the UN is running out of patience.

"The best solution is obviously that as many people leave as soon as possible," the UN's Sri Lanka chief, Neil Buhne, told the BBC.

"And that the site can become - for the people who have no place else to go - that it becomes an open site."

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