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Sri Lanka Rejects Calls for More Access to Displacement Camps


Sri Lanka has rejected a call by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to lift restrictions on aid delivery and unhindered access by humanitarian groups to overcrowded displacement camps. The Secretary General 's hurriedly planned visit to Sri Lanka Saturday was designed to keep the spotlight on the plight of the several hundred thousand civilians displaced by the recently-concluded civil war there.

The visit was supposed to kick up a bit of dust and expose perceived Sri Lankan shortcomings in caring for the displaced Tamil population.

The government has repeatedly insisted all is under control and there is no humanitarian crisis here.

The local authorities scripted a briefing and tour for Mr. Ban and schoolchildren sang a specially-written song to welcome him.

As the Secretary General toured the camp surrounded by a Sri Lankan security entourage, some of the displaced handed him letters pleading for help to improve conditions, especially medical care and sanitation. They also complained their movements are being restricted in what the government calls "welfare villages" - albeit ones with barbed wire and well-armed soldiers guarding perimeters.

Sri Lanka's military says the security and restricted access is essential because some of the former rebels may be trying to get in or out of the camp.

Mr. Ban did not always follow the government script. He chose, for example, which tents to enter.

At the camp's makeshift clinic the wounded and ill lie on cots outdoors. It was a scene Mr. Ban clearly found distressing, and underscored his position that significant aid and intervention by the international community is needed.

"But, as you have seen, there seems to be, some, clearly limitations in their capacity. That gap I'm going to fill, mobilizing all necessary humanitarian assistance," he said.

Manik Farm houses 220,000 displaced Tamils. More people, some of them traumatized by recent fighting, are on the way.

They are coming from the northeastern coastal strip, shown here in the first aerial look at the former war zone videotaped by VOA.

This is where Sri Lanka's military achieved a total battlefield victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is not known how many civilians died along the beach.

The government and rebels blamed each other for shelling which may have killed hundreds - and some claim, thousands - of non-combatants.

The alleged disregard for civilian life by both sides prompted an international outcry over human rights violations.

But Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama is confident no charges will stick, as far as his government is concerned.

"The definition of what war crimes are is very clear and therefore Sri Lanka is not within that definition at every respect," he said.

The U.N. Secretary General in his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at his official residence in Kandy, expressed hope Sri Lanka is sincere in making changes to reconcile the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.

Mr. Ban told reporters he worries about the consequences if such reconciliation fails.

"History could repeat itself. There is danger of social disruption and even renewed violence," said Ban.

The cost of the past quarter century of violence has been very high. The number of killed civilians, soldiers and rebels is said by experts to exceed 100,000 - and the tropical island's economy has suffered enormously.

How quickly these casualties of war are returned home and democratic elections are held in the Tamil-dominant north will be a barometer gauging whether lasting change is really on the horizon here.

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