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Sri Lanka

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what his Department's policy is on the return of internally displaced Tamil people to their villages and towns; [117510](2) how many internally displaced Tamil people live in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement; [117512](3) if he will make a statement on the internal displacement of Tamils in Sri Lanka. [117513]

The UNHCR estimates that the Sri Lankan conflict has displaced over 800,000 people. (Of the 600,000 surveyed, some 80 per cent. are Tamil, and 14 Muslim and 5 per cent. Sinhalese.)Since the ceasefire in February 2002, some 270,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned home spontaneously. However, the British Government cannot endorse organised returns for IDPs while the UNHCR recommends against it (given the lack of infrastructure to support returnees, and the large amount of unexploded ordinance in the north and east).

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the meetings his Department has held with representatives of (a) the Sri Lankan government and (b) the Tamil people to discuss development in each of the past five years. [117511]

FCO staff in Sri Lanka meet regularly with representatives of the Government, all political parties, the LTTE, as well as ordinary Sri Lankans of all ethnic communities, throughout the island. They discuss many issues, including development. The most recent high-level meeting on development took place in Sri Lanka on 4 June when the High Commissioner met senior LTTE representatives.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the peace-process in Sri Lanka. [117514]

The peace process has made remarkable progress since February 2002, particularly the agreement to pursue a political solution through a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. However, at present it is in a critical state. The LTTE has suspended its participation in the peace talks and did not attend the Donors Conference in Tokyo on 9/10 June.

We are working with all concerned to encourage both sides to continue dialogue and for the LTTE to return to the negotiating table.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government. [117515]

Sri Lanka is a signatory to all six core human rights instruments, and established a Human Rights Commission in August 1997. We are encouraged that the Government of Sri Lanka has taken measures to improve its human rights record. However there are still significant human rights issues that need to be addressed by both the Government and the LTTE. During the peace talks both sides have made commitments to address these issues, including the needs of women and children, particularly those affected by armed conflict. We hope these commitments will he taken forward once peace talks are resumed.