COLOMBO – Sri Lanka said Friday it has sent nearly 10,000 war-displaced people back to their villages in the island nation's north and east, four months after the military won a 25-year-old war with Tamil Tiger separatists.
Sri Lanka's government is under heavy Western pressure to make good on its promise of returning 80 percent of the 280,000 Tamil people being held in refugee camps to their homes by year-end.
The government so far has released more than 15,000 refugees who are being held in the crowded camps, where the military put the hundreds of thousands of people who were with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final months of the war, many of them held by the Tigers against their will.
We have resettled 9,984 people after making sure they have basic facilities, Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Service, told Reuters.
Sri Lanka pledged to resettle 70-80 percent of the refugees by the end of the year in its letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund, which gave it a $2.6 billion loan in July.
I am going back home after two years, said Haliappu Sellapullai, 61, who lost her son in the final phase of the war. She originally fled her home in the eastern town of Sampur in 2007.
Rights groups, opposition parties and pro-LTTE groups have accused the government of forcibly keeping people in the military-guarded camps for no good reason.
The government has said it must first weed out possible Tiger fighters and clear tens of thousands of landmines as fast as possible before full resettlement can occur.
In early August, the government resettled 3,000 people who fled the final phase of the military offensive.
(Editing by Bryson Hull and Jerry Norton)