Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 19:21 UK

UN in Tamil 'bitterness' warning

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News

Camp for internally displaced people in Vavuniya
The UN is concerned about conditions during the monsoon

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has warned that Sri Lanka risks creating "bitterness" if it fails to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees.

He conveyed this during talks with Sri Lankan Prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake at the UN in New York.

Mr Ban said further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps could lead to growing discontent in the government-run camps in the north.

More than 250,000 Tamil civilians have been confined in these camps.

The civilians fled the northern region in the final stages of fighting between Sri Lankan security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Sri Lankan military declared victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in May after the army wiped out their entire leadership.

Stone-throwing crowd

A UN news release, quoting Mr Ban, said he also underscored the need to resettle people rapidly because of the fast approaching monsoon season.

Walter Kalin (C) visits Sri Lankan war refugees in the district of Vavuniya
Mr Kaelin criticised the 'slow screening of people' in the camps

The government says it intends to resettle most of them by the end of this year. It also says it needs time to weed out Tamil Tiger rebels from refugee camps in the north.

The warning by Mr Ban came days after a violent incident in the refugee camps in which two civilians received injuries when soldiers fired on a group the military said was trying to escape from a camp near the northern town of Vavuniya.

A military spokesman said the soldiers fired in self-defence to disperse a stone-throwing crowd. He alleged one of the protesters had a hand grenade.

Nineteen people were taken into custody following the clash.

But a Tamil political leader has disputed the army's version of events saying the refugees were only trying to move from one camp to another to fetch firewood for cooking.

Another senior UN official, who visited the refugee camps last week, said the incident highlighted growing tensions and human rights abuses.

The incident "underscores how interning people in large and overcrowded camps not built for prolonged stays is itself a factor detrimental to security" Walter Kaelin, the secretary-general's representative for refugee rights, said in a statement after a recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Mr Kaelin said "the use of firearms to control a group of internally displaced persons" raised serious human rights issues.

He criticised the "slow screening of people" in the camps for suspected Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan government has come under intense pressure from human rights groups and other countries to free civilians confined in these camps more than four months after the end of the conflict.

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