Sri Lankan camps breach convention against genocide
By National security correspondent Matt Brown - abc.net.au
The Australian Government has sent a team of officials to northern Sri Lanka to look at the camps where hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians are being held by the Sri Lankan government.
More than 280,000 Tamils have been held in camps guarded by the Sri Lankan military ever since the military smashed the Tamil Tigers more than a month ago.
[click for ~ mp 3 audio-courtesy : abc.net.au]
Among the detainees are three Australian Tamils who the Sri Lankan government says must be screened like everybody else to see if they are members of the Tamil Tigers.
The Australian detainees are a 62-year old man and two women aged 26 and 29.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australian diplomats based in Sri Lanka have been trying to "obtain urgent access" to these people.
Weeks have gone by, but they still have not managed to get to them.
DFAT says it has heard nothing to suggest Australians are not safe and it is helping their families in Australia, but there is also puzzling uncertainty about their fate.
Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Canberra, Senaka Walgampaya, says his government does not even know who they are or where they are.
"They have so far not identified the persons and when they are identified and if in fact they are there, then they will have to be questioned as to what they were doing," he said.
The Australian head of the International Commission of Jurists, former New South Wales Supreme Court Judge and Attorney-General John Dowd, says the Australians are caught up in an increasingly worrying nightmare.
"We can't wait for an interminable delay while the Sri Lankan Government works out who it says are combatants and who it says aren't," he said.
Several staff members from the Australian High Commission in the capital Colombo are visiting Sri Lanka's north to look at camp conditions, talk to the United Nations, aid groups and Sri Lankan government agencies.
But the Sri Lankan government has banned independent observers who want regular access to the camps.
"What's going on, why can't the world be allowed in? There can only be things that the Sri Lankan Government doesn't want us to see and that's a real concern," Justice Dowd said.
The International Commission of Jurists says the conditions there are not the only worry.
Justice Dowd says the purpose of the camps may breach the convention against genocide.
"The convention covers forced movement of people. These people are being forcibly moved from the areas where they surrendered to other parts of Sri Lanka," he said.
"The real concern is that they're not going to be returned, that in fact they're going to move them, transfer the population, and put other people in."
The Government has raised the plight of Tamil civilians several times but its other business with the Sri Lankan government goes on.
Yesterday the deputy chief of Australia's Navy, Rear Admiral David Thomas, made an unannounced visit to Colombo to meet the chief of Sri Lanka's defence staff.
The Defence Department says it was a goodwill visit to meet senior Sri Lankan defence officials to exchange views on regional security.
The Department of Foreign Affairs was more explicit. It says the two men discussed people smuggling.