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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2707

Sri Lanka: UN Sends Emergency Team As Residents Return To Former Battle Zone

New York, 02 May, ( While thousands continue to flee the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, others have started to return to their homes in former battle areas, and the United Nations refugee agency said today it is sending teams to aid their transition.

Some 400 people returned yesterday to a village in the Mannar district, which was for a long time the front line between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Out of some 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have registered to return to 15 villages in Mannar over the coming weeks, as part of the first Government-organized return operation in the embattled northern part of the island nation for many years.

“UNHCR welcomes these returns as a positive development,” agency spokesperson William Spindler today in Geneva. “While the number of those returning to their homes is still small it is an important starting point. We hope that returns to other areas in northern Sri Lanka will also be possible soon,” he added.

In advance of the returns, UNHCR sent five experts to Sri Lanka's north in February and March, to assess conditions, and the agency verified that mine clearance in the first village to receive returnees had been completed.

A second team of UNHCR emergency experts is scheduled to arrive today in the country. The team of four includes specialists on community services, protection and other essential field functions, the agency said.

Over the past weeks, UNHCR field monitoring teams spoke with the IDPs about their concerns regarding return. They said that they are keen to return, but were worried about their houses and how to make a living once back home.

UNHCR provided each family at the transit site with a return package which includes a tarpaulin kit to construct a tent-shape shelter upon arrival, as well as jungle clearing tools.

Over the coming days, the agency will distribute household items inside the return area, including mosquito nets, mats, water containers and hurricane lamps. It will also repair hundreds of houses, it said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners have been mounting a massive humanitarian operation in support of the Government to assist the 171,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) it estimates have fled the recent conflict zone, mostly during the last 10 days.

They are accommodated in 38 sites in four districts of the north and east of the country.

- Asian Tribune -

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