Some 30,000 Sri Lankans return home in east: UNHCR

GENEVA, May 29, 2007 (AFP) – Some 30,000 Sri Lankans who had fled fighting in the east of the country have returned to their homes over the past two weeks under a government resettlement plan, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is monitoring the process, said conditions in the Vellavelly area generally seemed suitable and most returnees were happy about the outcome.

The returnees were among some 90,000 people from the eastern Batticaloa district the Sri Lanka government is planning to return over the coming months.

Relief workers have raised concerns for the safety of civilians in Batticaloa, a battleground for Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces, and insisted that returns of displaced people must be voluntary.

“Most of the returnees seem happy to be home but had received little prior information about the conditions in the areas of return,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis.

The UNHCR has recommended that the government improve information on conditions before displaced people are brought back and said that authorities should allow UN teams into the areas beforehand.

“We will continue to support the government in assisting displaced