Sri Lanka frees priests from war camps

August 26, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka on Wednesday freed nearly 600 Hindu and Catholic priests who were held in internment camps with ethnic Tamils displaced by fighting between troops and separatist rebels, officials said. The clergy were allowed to leave the camps in the northern district of Vavuniya, where 300,000 inmates are detained under tight security to be screened for remaining Tamil Tiger rebels.

“We are taking measures to free the remaining members of the clergy at the earliest,” said P.S. Charles, the senior civil servant in the area.

A total of 571 Hindu priests, six Catholic priests and two nuns were allowed out, she said, adding another 220 were still in the camps.

International and local rights groups have expressed concern about the welfare of the civilians held in the cramped internment centres, which are officially described as “welfare villages.”

Recent rains have overwhelmed the sewerage systems and contaminated wells, raising fears of disease outbreaks.

Monsoon rains expected in October are likely to worsen conditions.

The United States, which led criticism of civilian casualties in the final phase of Colombo’s offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels, has also