June 19, 2009 / 2:36 PM / 11 years ago

Aid gets into Sri Lanka camps, few people get out: U.N.

A young Tamil boy and elderly man sit out the front of their temporary shelters at the Manik Farm refugee camp located on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavuniya May 26, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

GENEVA (Reuters) - Humanitarian aid is getting into Sri Lanka’s war displacement camps, but very few of the 280,000 people they house are being allowed out, the top United Nations aid official said on Friday.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator John Holmes said survivors of the brutal civil war that Colombo declared over in May needed to be permitted to resume normal lives in order to ease tensions in the country’s northeast.

Aid vehicles carrying food, health and other supplies are now gaining access to the camps which were closed to trucks in the first days after the 25-year fighting stopped, Holmes told a news conference in Geneva.

“We do have pretty much full access to those camps at the moment,” he said, noting that problems with overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation facilities with the onset of disease-spreading monsoon rains were gradually being overcome.

“What is more worrying is the nature of the camps themselves. They could be described as internment camps in some respects, in the sense that people are not allowed to move freely in and out of them for the moment,” Holmes continued.

Sri Lanka has said it is in control of the refugee situation and blasted Western governments for their attempts at the United Nations to shine a light on reported transgressions during and after its war against the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka’s government has said it aims to have 80 percent of the population back to their villages of origin by the end of the year, and will work to give ethnic Tamils a strong political voice in the majority Sinhalese nation.

Holmes said United Nations officials are “discussing in a very intensive way with the government” ways to buoy the welfare of people in the camps and to help them get home quickly.

Such issues he said “are crucial, not only for the sake of the people in the camps, but also for the sake of the future political reconciliation which absolutely needs to happen.”

Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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