Hundreds of Thousands Still Displaced in Sri Lanka

A U.N. human rights expert on Friday visited Sri Lanka's military-run detention camps where nearly 300,000 war-displaced civilians have been held since the country's civil war ended four months ago.

Walter Kaelin, the U.N. secretary-general's representative for the human rights of internally displaced persons, visited camps in northern Vavuniya and Mannar districts, said Sulakshani Perera, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s refugee agency.

The U.N. did not immediately comment on Kaelin's findings but the government quoted him as saying that its efforts to fulfill the needs of the displaced people and their human rights were at a "commendable level."

Perera said Kaelin would discuss his observations with government officials before leaving on Sunday.

Sri Lanka's government has come under intense pressure from human rights groups and foreign governments to free the ethnic Tamils detained in the camps.

Human rights groups have criticized their detention as an illegal form of collective punishment and warned that the impending monsoon rains could create health crises in the low-lying, congested camps.

Kaelin is the second senior U.N. official to visit Sri Lanka in a week to discuss the plight of the displaced. Last week, U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe expressed concern over the authorities' slow pace in returning the displaced civilians to their homes.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised Pascoe that villages in the former battle zone would soon be cleared of mines and all displaced people would be returned home by the end of January.

Authorities also say they are screening the people to apprehend former guerrillas hiding among them.

Sri Lanka declared victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent state. The displaced civilians fled the last phase of fighting.

The U.N. estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the civil war.