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Sri Lanka president pledges land for 100,000 war victims

COLOMBO: Up to 100,000 people still living in camps six years after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal ethnic war will be given land to build homes within six months, President Maithripala Sirisena told AFP on Sunday.

“It is an ambitious target, but I will see that all the internally displaced people are given land to build homes,” the president said in an interview. “I am setting up a mechanism to complete this process within six months.”

Sirisena, elected last January, has won praise for starting to hand back land after the end of one of South Asia’s longest and bloodiest ethnic wars, pitting the government against Tamil separatists.

But he is also under international pressure to do more to ensure reconciliation in the ethnically divided nation.

The president told AFP he would give land to civilians displaced by war in the embattled northern and eastern provinces, and also the northwestern coastal region of Puttalam, by the middle of this year.

During a visit to Jaffna in the north last month, where much of the fighting took place, Sirisena said he visited a refugee camp which has been home to about 1,300 families for the past 25 years.

“This is an unacceptable situation. I want to end this problem once and for all,” he said. “For many people the main issue was lack of land and that is something we will resolve in the next six months.”

As part of a parallel scheme, he was also planning to release additional private land occupied by the military, mainly in the former war zones in the northern and eastern provinces starting in the next two weeks.

He said he would travel to Jaffna this month to formally hand over about 700 acres (283 hectares) of land as part of the plan and in line with an election promise he had made.

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