New figures released by the government of Sri Lanka show that the number of displaced people living in government-run welfare centers has dropped by nearly 50,000 as people continue to return to their homes.

According to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, the welfare centers housed 248,813 people as of Aug. 13. That’s about 50,000 fewer than in June, when the centers held nearly 300,000 people.

Some of the reduction occurred when about 10,000 people recently returned to their homes in the northern cities of Mannar and Jaffna, where extensive de-mining has taken place. Another 10,000 elderly civilians have been released to their families, or have voluntarily entered senior citizen centers.

Additionally, the government announced Tuesday that another 15,000 displaced families will soon be returned to their homes in the Jaffna area.

"We have already sent the details of over 15,000 families to the Police , Jaffna Government Agent and respective Divisional Secretariats to ascertain whether they are permanent residents in the Jaffna district," the government said.

Once complete, that round of resettlements will mean that the government has returned more than 20 percent of the displaced population to their homes.

The civilians living in the welfare centers were displaced by fighting in the north during the closing months of the 25-year-long conflict between the government and the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As government forces defeated the LTTE in May, civilians held hostage as a human shield by the LTTE escaped and flooded into the government-run centers, swelling their populations.

The Sri Lankan government immediately requested international aid. The United Nations and International Committee for the Red Cross are just two of the more than 50 aid organizations now working in Sri Lanka.

The government has pledged to return most of the displaced to their homes in the north, where the conflict concluded, by the end of this year. Government officials said recently that resettlement of civilians in the Jaffna District will definitely be completed under the “Uthuru Wasanthaya” (Northern Spring) 180-day accelerated programme, according to ITN television

Resettlement requires the removal of an extensive number of landmines placed by the LTTE. A number of nations have pledged landmine removal aid. The government has also launched a broad re-construction effort in the north to rebuild more than 80,000 homes, as well as to repair neglected water and sewer works, roads, bridges and public buildings.

As part of the re-settlement effort, the first post-conflict regional elections were recently held in the northern cities of Jaffna and Vavuniya. On Aug. 8 voters in Vavuniya elected a majority of five candidates of the Tamil National Alliance's Ilanghai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) to the 11 member municipal council. A party of a former Tamil militant faction that opposed the LTTE won three seats, and the ruling coalition United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won two.

In Jaffna, the UPFA won 13 seats on the council there and ITAK took eight.

The LTTE’s former presence in those areas meant that elections hadn’t been held in Jaffna since 1999 and in Vavuniya since 1994.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

19 August 2009

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