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Floods in Sri Lanka ravage Tamil camp

Hundreds of shelters for the displaced ethnic minority may have been destroyed or damaged, the U.N. says. Rights groups say the government should free the civilian detainees.

August 18, 2009|Associated Press

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Heavy rains have destroyed or damaged hundreds of shelters housing ethnic Tamils displaced during Sri Lanka's civil war, the United Nations said Monday.

The weekend flooding has added to concern over the welfare of nearly 300,000 people who have been living in tents and makeshift shelters since the May defeat by government forces of the Tamil Tigers, ending their 25-year armed campaign for a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority.

Parts of the Manik Farm camp in the island's northeast were inundated, and about 1,925 shelters may have been damaged or destroyed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement. It did not specify the total number of people who used the shelters.

It also warned that nearly 100 toilets have been flooded and that the water there was "stagnant and contaminated."

The government says the affected people have been moved to higher ground.

Nearly 1,000 families have been relocated, said Keerthi Ekanayake, a senior official with the agency for disaster management. He said the floodwaters were receding and the situation was under control. The families were being provided with food, water and other assistance, he said.

Rights groups have urged the government to free the civilians, whose camps are guarded by soldiers and strung with barbed wire, saying the detentions are illegal. Access to the camps is heavily restricted, although the U.N. is allowed entry and helps supply them.

The government says it can't release the civilians until it finishes screening them for potential rebel fighters.

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