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Sri Lanka to resettle 80 pct of refugees by yearend-UN

COLOMBO, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka still aims to release 70-80 percent of war refugees by the end of year, the U.N. top political official said on Friday, but voiced concern over the lack of freedom in camps for people displaced by fighting.

Lynn Pascoe, head of the U.N. political affairs department, was visiting the Indian Ocean island to push for the government to let the refugees go home following its victory in May over separatist Tamil Tiger fighters after 25 years of war.

Rights groups have charged that the people in the camps are treated poorly and are being kept there longer than necessary.

Sri Lanka says it must clear thousands of landmines and weed out remaining rebels hiding among the civilian population before it can fulfil its pledge to resettle 80 percent of the 280,000 Tamil people in camps.

“They (the government) told us they maintain their previously stated goal of moving 70-80 percent of IDPs (internally displaced people) out of the camps and home by the end of the year..., Pascoe told reporters.

On Thursday, Pascoe toured Menik Farm, the camp in northern Sri Lanka where most of those who fled fighting at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war are being held.

“Clearly the government is making efforts, but we have strong concerns on several points.” Pascoe said. “First, the United Nations is very concerned about the lack of freedom of movement for (IDPs), and in particular, the closed nature of the camps.”

Passcoe also said he raised the agency’s concerns over the detention of two Sri Lankan U.N. staff members and the expulsion of a spokesman for U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Refugees and the government said on Thursday at least half the 10,000 war refugees the Sri Lankan government said it sent home last week are still being held in transfer camps in their home districts.[ID:nCOL448495]

Last week the government said it had sent home nearly 10,000 war refugees from Menik Farm camp to their homes in the eastern districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee and the northern district of Jaffna. [ID:nCOL445684]

The government has said it has released 15,000 refugees since the end of the war in mid-May. United Nations data says nearly 12,000 have been sent home, about half of them elderly refugees released either to rest homes or the care of relatives.

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton