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Sri Lanka - a safe area that works

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka - a safe area that works

30 March 1999

On 22 March 1998, the Sri Lankan Army swept through an area north of the town of Vavuniya in Northern Sri Lanka where UNHCR supported Open Relief Centres are located at Madhu and Palampiddy accommodating some 25,000 people. The government troops and the Tamil rebels refrained from entering the Open Relief Centres during the conflict and respected their humanitarian character. The centres have served as a quasi safe area for the local population since 1990 but last week for the first time there was a military operation in the vicinity of the Centres. The restraint prevented renewed displacement of thousands of people, many of whom had been driven for their homes several times before.

UNHCR is encouraged by what happened and we hope that this respect for humanitarian operations will be maintained.

UNHCR started operating in Sri Lanka in 1987 linked to repatriation of refugees from India as a result of the Indo-Sri Lankan peace agreement. As a result of the new hostilities in mid 1990, UNHCR protection and assistance activities became increasingly focused on internally displaced persons based on an understanding with the Sri Lankan government and approved by the UN Secretary-General first in 1991 and reconfirmed in 1997.