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Sri Lanka opposition calls for release of refugees

Sri Lanka opposition calls for release of refugees

Sri Lankan opposition lawmakers urged the government Wednesday to release nearly 300,000 war refugees held in state-run camps, saying the detentions brought shame on the country.
The government has been holding the ethnic Tamil civilians at a string of camps in the north, saying it needed to screen the population for Tamil Tiger fighters who may have escaped when the military routed the separatist rebels in May.
International rights groups have called on the government to release the civilians, and many aid workers fear the coming rainy season could lead to a humanitarian crisis in the camps.
"These camps stand as a symbol of shame and disgrace to our proud Sri Lankan history," said Mano Ganesan, an opposition lawmaker and head of a group calling itself Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
"These camps are like prisons. People are kept against their will and that's illegal," he told reporters.
Ganesan also demanded that opposition lawmakers be allowed to visit the camps. The government has severely restricted access, barring most reporters, rights workers and relatives from entering.
"Parliamentarians have a right to visit any place in the country, and it's our responsibility too to ensure the well being of our people," Ganesan said.
Sri Lankan defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the government was considering the issue of access to the camps, but accused the opposition of using the displaced to gain "political advantage."
The government has said it will resettle the displaced in their villages in the former war zone after the area has been cleared of land mines. Authorities have resettled more than 5,000 of the displaced, and officials say they hope to resettle 80 percent by the end of the year, a task many aid workers and diplomats doubt is possible.
The rebels fought for a separate homeland for the country's Tamil minority since 1983. The conflict killed more than 80,000.