Asia

Sri Lanka closes huge Menik Farm displacement camp

Menik Farm camp
Image caption The camp once housed more than a quarter of a million people

A Sri Lankan camp for displaced people - once one of the largest in the world - has closed, officials have said.

The final 1,160 residents of the Menik Farm camp, in the country's north, left on Monday.

The jungle camp sprang up to accommodate Tamil civilians caught up in the violence of the final months of Sri Lanka's war in 2009.

At one point, the camp housed 300,000 people, displaced as the army pursued and annihilated the Tamil Tigers.

Civil society activists estimate that about 26,000 people remain displaced by military occupation of their land in Sri Lanka.

But the UN has praised the government's resettlement programme, with one official describing it as "remarkable".

The BBC's Charles Haviland, in Colombo, says that there is, however, some unhappiness that a sizeable number of the families cannot return to their homes and villages.

Some 70% of those rehoused from the Menik camp have returned to their home area of Manthuvil, near the scene of the last fighting.

Others, however, have returned to a new site as the military has taken over their home village of Keppapilavu.

Landmines

Foreign donors have helped with the return of villagers to their homes but not with relocation to new sites, which they say contravenes UN guidelines on resettlement.

Residents said they were both excited and worried by the prospect of finally returning home.

"I know there is nothing to return to," Ilangithirayan Saumyamurthy, from Jaffna district, told news agency Irin.

"Starting all over again - even with assistance - won't be easy."

Sri Lankan Resettlement Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon told Irin that there were several reasons why closing the camp had taken three years.

"Demining is still in progress in Mullaitivu district and some areas are not declared safe yet. Besides, material for home reconstruction has to be provided as many homes are nothing more than rubble and are not habitable."

According to the UN Development Programme, some 43 sq miles (112 sq km) of land remains contaminated with landmines, across 10 districts.

The Menik Farm camp was notorious because for several months its inhabitants were locked inside, not allowed to leave while the government screened them for possible links to the Tigers and tried to assess how sympathetic they were to the rebels.

When the BBC visited the camp in 2009, people complained of a lack of water and said that the poor sanitation was making them ill.

It is not immediately clear what the Sri Lankan authorities plan to do with the site, which includes several schools and hospitals. The government has said it will be made available for public purposes.

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