Sri Lanka: top UN official visits camps for uprooted civilians

21 May 2009

A senior United Nations official travelled today to camps housing civilians who escaped Government-rebel clashes in northern Sri Lanka, ahead of a visit by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who departs today for the South Asian island nation.

Earlier this week, the Government of Sri Lanka declared that its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had ended, and that the remaining civilians that were caught up in the conflict zone in the country’s north-east had left.

Vijay Nambiar, Mr. Ban’s Chief of Staff, today visited camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Vavuniya, where the majority of those escaping fighting are now living, and also saw the former conflict zone first-hand from a helicopter.

He also met with members of the Tamil National Alliance who are also Parliament members.

Yesterday, he met with V. Anandasangaree, President of the Tamil United Liberation Front, a Tamil political party. The two men discussed the situation of the IDPs remaining in the conflict zone – many of whom have either died, were injured or are missing – as well as the hospitals abandoned due to heavy shelling.

They also conferred on allocating more land to address overcrowding and the provision of necessary supplies, especially for children.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that, according to the Sri Lankan Government, all IDPs have left the conflict zone and have gone through transit points. It has put the total number of uprooted people in camps at 272,000, out of whom 251,000 are in Vavuniya.

OCHA voiced concern about overcrowding at the camps at Menik Farm, where access is restricted for aid vehicles.

It also underscored the need for freedom of movement for people in camps to allow those who have been identified as non-combatants to be able to relocate and stay with host families, if they have the option.

Mr. Ban is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka tomorrow for a two-day visit to get a first-hand look at the situation on the ground.

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