Sri Lanka to resettle war refugees soon: official

NEW DELHI, June 24, 2009 (AFP) – A Sri Lankan official delegation visiting India said on Wednesday Colombo was working to resettle tens of thousands of civilians displaced by fighting on the island. The team said Sri Lanka was also working for the “democratisation” of the country’s north, where fierce fighting earlier this year led to the rout of the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

“We are getting all the assistance to start their livelihood programmes like agriculture, fisheries and livestock,” Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told reporters after meeting Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

“I think we can resettle the bulk of the people within a 180-day programme,” he said, adding that Colombo had already begun rebuilding roads and bridges damaged in the fighting.

Nearly 300,000 civilians who fled Sri Lanka’s war zone are detained in temporary shelters which the government calls “welfare villages”.

The official said Colombo would “very soon” conduct elections to local government bodies in the north.

“For the last 30 years we did not have any representive in the grassroot level in local government or municipal councils there,” he added.

Lalith Weer