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UN Secretary-General To Visit War-Torn Sri Lanka


The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will leave Friday for a two-day visit to Sri Lanka to see first-hand the damage done by the fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. Mr. Ban, who spoke to reporters at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, says he will offer the Sri Lankan government the U.N.'s help in trying to reconcile the divided ethnic groups.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is relieved that the military operations in northern Sri Lanka have ended. But, he says he is deeply troubled by the loss of so many civilian lives.

He says every effort must be made to begin a process of healing and national reconciliation.

"The legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Tamil people and other minorities must be fully addressed," said Ban Ki-moon. "We must recognize the profound pain, particularly in communities affected by the conflict and among so many who lost loved ones to the violence. We urgently need to treat the wounds of war that has alienated the communities in the island for almost three decades."

The Tamil Tigers began fighting for an independent state more than 25 years ago. The civil war has claimed more than 70,000 lives and made millions more homeless.

The Sri Lankan government began its so-called fight-to-the finish early this year. Since then, more than a quarter of a million people have been displaced and thousands killed.

Mr. Ban said reports of possible rights violations during the final stages of the bloody battle should be investigated.

"Wherever serious and credible allegations are made of grave and persistent violations of international humanitarian laws, these should be properly investigated," he said. "As you may note, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has already called for that investigation. I hope these allegations are handled through appropriate procedures."

The High Commissioner has accused both the government and Tamil Tigers of possibly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Ban says he will visit some of the hardest hit areas, including the conflict zone, to assess conditions on the ground . He says he is very concerned about the safety and welfare of the civilian population.

He says it is critical to address the immediate needs of the Tamil people, to work for reintegration and reconstruction of the society and to achieve a sustainable and equitable political solution.

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