The Sri Lankan government aims to resettle all conflict-displaced people by the end of 2011, senior officials tell IRIN.
“We are very confident that everybody can be resettled by the end of this year and [that we can] close Menik Farm camp as well," Uthpala Basnayakaye, secretary for the Ministry of Resettlement, said on 10 February, noting that demining had to be completed first.
Nearly 17,500 people continue to live at Menik Farm, the country's largest camp for internally displaced persons (IDP). Earlier the government had hoped to close the 500-hectare site outside the northern town of Vavuniya at the end of 2010.
“The demining process has been accelerated. However, a lot needs to be done. We believe by the end of 2011, we can complete the process," Basnayakaye said.
"The main problem we have is the landmine situation and we cannot close the camp until we clear the area," said Rishad Bathiudeen, a senior government minister and former minister of resettlement and disaster relief services.
According to the recently launched Joint Plan for Assistance to the Northern Province, a total of 530sqkm was still contaminated at the start of the year, with 444sqkm cleared since 1 January 2009.
Nigel Robinson, programme manager for the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) in Sri Lanka, said it will probably take at least 18 months to complete all of the known high priority tasks, and more contamination is being identified as the population starts to conduct livelihood activities.
"The process had been speeding up with increased donor support,” he noted. “We have free access and the teams are demining as fast as they can."
There are currently eight demining operators active in Sri Lanka, including two national NGOs (MMIPE and DASH) and six international NGOs: Danish Demining Group (DDG), FSD, HALO Trust, Horizon, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and Sarvatra.
According to the government and UN, most of the remaining IDPs come from heavily mine-contaminated areas in Puthukudiyiruppu Divisional Secretariat (DS) and Maritimepattu DS (Mullaitivu District).
Since the return process began in August 2009, more than 300,000 conflict-displaced have returned to the north from Menik Farm and more than a dozen other camps hastily set up in the final days of the conflict between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for decades.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions