Calling for an end to “old enmities,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Sri Lanka today, days after the Government declared that its military operation against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has ended.
“We are here at a defining moment in Sri Lanka's history,” Mr. Ban said in a statement after touching down on the South Asian island nation. “A long and terrible conflict has come to an end. Now is the time for the nation to unite and build a just and lasting peace.”
He expressed his deep concern over the safety and welfare of the at least 300,000 people uprooted by the clashes. “I hope my visit today can help begin a process of national recovery, renewal and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans,” he said. “That is why I am here.”
The Secretary-General, who will meet with the country's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other senior officials tomorrow, said that he seeks to further progress in three areas.
Firstly, he said that he hopes that urgent humanitarian needs will be met, stressing the importance of ensuring that the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) meet minimum standards and that essential supplies, including food and medicine, are available.
“I will therefore ask that UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations be given immediate and unhindered access to all areas where there are displaced people,” he said.
Another goal is to call on the Government to fast-track the screening and processing of refugees as quickly as possible, Mr. Ban said, underscoring the need for families to be reunited and for people to start rebuilding their lives.
Lastly, he said that he “will urge the Government and all elements of society to take powerful and immediate steps to initiate a political process of dialogue, accommodation and reconciliation.”
In his statement, the Secretary-General, who hopes to travel to the former conflict zone in the north-east and visit an IDP camp during his two-day visit, highlighted that “Sri Lankans of every ethnic and religious identity must enjoy equal justice, rights and guarantees of security under the law, as President Rajapaksa declared in his recent address to Parliament,” adding that “the world will be watching.”
Earlier today, Mr. Ban's Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar, who has been in the country for several days, told reporters in the capital, Colombo, that the national reconciliation process must be “all-inclusive” and address the legitimate aspirations of Tamils and other minorities.
“It is important that victory becomes a victory for all Sri Lankans,” he added.
Over the past week, Mr. Nambiar has visited camps for internally IDPs in Menik farm in the country's north as well as taking a helicopter ride over the former conflict area.
The official said he also held meetings with Mr. Rajapaksa, other senior officials, diplomats, representatives of humanitarian agencies and political leaders, including Tamil members of Parliament.