Sri Lanka relocates 16,000 refugees after floods hit camps

COLOMBO - The government relocated 16,000 Tamil refugees after floods hit their camps in northern Sri Lanka, state officials said Wednesday.

The refugees were relocated from camps in Vavuniya, 260 km north of the capital, after heavy rains swept through the area for two days, officials from the ministry of resettlement said.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament that the displaced were being relocated due to the unexpected onset of monsoon rains.

Heavy rains hit several parts of the country and the meteorology department said more rainfall was expected in the next few days.

The majority of the refugee camps are not capable of withstanding heavy rains, officials said, although they were capable of providing protection from the sun and ordinary rains.

Opposition parties and rights groups criticised the government for failing to resettle the displaced population ousted from their homes by recent conflict between the army and Tamil rebels.

The military defeated the rebels after killing their leadership May 18, but the resettlement process has been delayed.

The government claims de-mining work has not been completed, but the opposition says the refugees are being held back for political reasons and to obtain foreign aid.

“De-mining needs special expertise. It is a slow process and has to be done diligently and carefully. The area is heavily mined,” Wickremanayake said.

Opposition United National Party member Lakshman Kiriella told parliament that no opposition MPs were allowed to visit the refugee camps.

The government vowed to resettle nearly 80 percent of the 285,000 refugees in the camps before the end of the year.

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