Sri Lanka begins re-settling war displaced

April 30, 2009 (AFP) – About 400 Sri Lankan civilians returned home on Thursday two years after being forced to flee by fighting in the country’s ethnic conflict, the United Nations refugee agency said.

Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said the government was hoping to resettle all Tamil civilians within a year as the Tiger guerrillas appear close to final defeat. They were the first of 3,000 people to be resettled in 15 villages in the northwestern district of Mannar, the scene of prolonged battles before recent advances by government troops.

“This is the first time in years that internally displaced people are able to return home in the Mannar district,” the UNHCR said. “The return movement is a small but important starting point.”

More than 100,000 Tamils have been detained by the government in camps in the northeast of Sri Lanka, and tens of thousands more are still inside rebel-held territory.

The UN has cleared mines in Mannar and distributed start-up kits containing tents, household utensils, water containers and hurricane lamps to the civilians returning to their villages.