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Lankan refugee camps are not simply temporary shelters

Toronto, Mar 23 (ANI): Thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil families in the country’s south, who were divided for years by the war and finally able to see relatives in the north, are now learning that the government camps are not simply temporary shelters for those who have lost their homes.

The network, which spans the country’s north, holds almost 300,000 people, and is designed to separate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighters from the civilian population using former Tamil Tiger cadres as “witnesses.”

More than 40 per cent of those in the camps are children, according to surveys by UNICEF, and they will stay until their parents have been screened for Tiger affiliations.

The detainees are not just those who have fled the violence, but the entire civilian population of the northeastern conflict area, which is being swept clean of inhabitants by the military, Globe and Mail reports.

Sri Lankan officials say they face a problem: The LTTE effectively militarized large parts of the Tamil population in the breakaway state of Tamil Eelam, in the northern strip of land it controlled until its defeat on Monday.

Fighters, officers and trained suicide bombers are embedded in the civilian population, and include some younger teenagers and older children, so the screening process is bound to be complex, perhaps impossible.

To accomplish the task, they have created an elaborate hierarchy of 41 locations, most of them in remote northern areas, with no access to guests, family members or journalists, and with only restricted contact for aid agencies, the paper reports.

The Sri Lankan Government calls the first and largest tier of camps “welfare villages” and they currently house as many as 280,000 people, some in abandoned schools, but most in cities of tents provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The largest of these is a cluster of camps north of Vavuniya, in the centre of the island’s north, containing more than 200,000 people over an area of 16 square kilometres.

The government had intended to put all Tamils in this complex, but abandoned that plan because “it got so large that it is swimming” in its waste, a health official said. Now there are subsidiary camps of 11,0000 detainees near Jaffna, in the far north, and of 6,000 in Pulmoddai, in the northeast, Globe and Mail reports.

Second are the “rehabilitation centres,” high-security facilities where suspected Tamil Tiger fighters, mainly male, are held indefinitely.

Military officials said that these centres, which hold almost 3,000 suspected fighters, are used to extract information about the identities of other rebels, and to prepare known fighters to identify former comrades in “screening” operations. It is not known what forms of interrogation are used here, the paper reports.

Finally, there is a very high-security facility on the south coast of Sri Lanka near Galle, where suspected senior LTTE officials and supporters are held and interrogated. One official, a junior officer involved with the screening process, said: “This is our Guantanamo Bay.”

All civilians are required to move into basic camps and are kept until they can be removed to “screening points” where they can be positively identified as non-combatants by panels of witnesses – Tamil Tiger officers who have been “rehabilitated” at tougher, more secure camps. (ANI)

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