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UN Chief Calls for Reconciliation, Access in Sri Lanka


The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, got a first hand look Saturday at the plight of nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the recent fighting. The military routed the rebel Tamil Tigers in a final offensive that sent the civilians scattering. Some have moved multiple times before ending up in government-run camps.

The United Nations Secretary General was first brought to the success story Sri Lanka wanted to show off to the world - a model camp, which it calls a welfare village. Here he was welcomed by Tamil children singing a song composed in his honor.

The camp, called Manik Farm, is the largest and according to NGO workers, the best run. But the workers and the Tamils say other zones do not resemble the model. The worst sections are overcrowded, lack adequate toilet facilities and a repeated complaint we heard at every stop - not enough soap.

Mani Farm is ringed with barbed wire and there are many soldiers carrying weapons. The Tamils say they are not free to move outside the camp.

There are 220,000 people already here. A new area - called Zone 4 has been cleared - and more internal refugees are on the way.

I went inside a couple of the tents with the Secretary General, who spoke with some families. One Tamil girl told him she needed an operation for her leg wounds, but there was no such facility here. She told him she couldn't even get pills for her pain and other ailments.

At a makeshift clinic we saw the injured and the very ill lying on cots outdoors under a large tent. On one listless elderly woman, flies covered her bandaged leg wound.

For most, who seemed fit, if not a bit dazed, their primary complaint is not knowing when they will be able to return home.

All appear eager to resume normal life. The government is pledging to have most of them resettled back in their villages and towns in six months. But some officials acknowledge that due to land mines and other security issues it could be several years before all are able to be return home.

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