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UN relief chief tours conflict-wracked areas of eastern Sri Lanka

UN relief chief tours conflict-wracked areas of eastern Sri Lanka

The top United Nations humanitarian official toured eastern Sri Lanka today, meeting with some of the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the region and holding talks with local authorities to try to improve the relief effort there.

John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited an IDP settlement near the town of Batticaloa, close to the scene of recent fighting between Government forces and Tamil separatists.

More than 160,000 civilians became displaced in eastern Sri Lanka between October last year and May, according to UN humanitarian officials, including some people who were also displaced when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the country in December 2004.

Mr. Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said it was tragic that those people affected by the tsunami had had to flee again.

During talks with local authorities, he stressed the need for improved cooperation between UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Government to improve aid provision across the country, where at least 3,500 people have been killed in the past year because of the renewed fighting in the decades-long conflict.

Mr. Holmes called on local authorities to open all areas to humanitarian operations and to restore public services as well.

Tomorrow he is expected to wrap up his visit to Sri Lanka by meeting the country’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa.