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Sri Lanka: Despite apparent stabilisation, UNHCR remains concerned for thousands displaced

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: Despite apparent stabilisation, UNHCR remains concerned for thousands displaced

28 April 2006

Our office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, reports that as of noon today, the overall situation seems to have stabilised in most parts of the conflict zone in the north and the east of the country following fighting earlier this week. However, we remain seriously concerned over the recent displacement of thousands of people in the north-eastern Trincomalee district.

Military air strikes in the district on Tuesday and Wednesday and hostilities around the Muttur area south-east of Trincomalee town have apparently ceased, but we estimate between 7,000 and 8,000 people have fled a cluster of villages in the area. Earlier, on April 21, some 8,500 people were displaced as a result of claymore mine attacks in Muttur. And on April 10, an estimated 3,000 other residents were displaced following a marketplace bombing in Trincomalee town that killed 16 people and sparked an upsurge in inter-ethnic violence that included several claymore mine attacks and the burning and looting of houses. The displaced sought temporary shelter in schools, churches and other public buildings.

With the easing of fighting between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the re-opening of access roads, we expect that many of the displaced will begin to return to their homes. Some are already returning to their properties during daylight hours, but spending nights in displacement locations.

A joint UN assessment team, including UNHCR, is in the region today. Some humanitarian agencies on the ground trying to gain access to affected areas are still experiencing difficulties in reaching certain villages and displaced populations. UNHCR is calling on all parties to allow immediate access to affected populations as soon as possible. We're also concerned about reports of intimidation by some local residents of some of the internally displaced people who sought help in government-run welfare centres.

In the Jaffna area, the front lines were reopened and some humanitarian agencies resumed their monitoring role with vehicles and personnel allowed to move between military and LTTE areas.

The situation in Vavuniya and surrounding areas has remained tense, following security incidents earlier this week. Reports have been received from displaced people in one Vavuniya welfare centre that a group of masked men have been entering the centre and intimidating those staying there. Similar incidents have taken place in other welfare centres in conflict-affected areas.

Meanwhile, after a break of about 10 days, there has been a few Sri Lankan refugees - 16 to be exact - arriving in southern India's Tamil Nadu state since April 22. Since early January, a total of 596 Sri Lankan refugees have arrived in Tamil Nadu, most as a result of increased violence in December and early 2006. There had been no arrivals for about 10 days before April 22, when the latest violence erupted. We have seen Sri Lankan media reports that people fleeing the island are being intercepted at sea, but UNHCR cannot confirm these accounts.