A senior U.N. official says Sri Lanka's former war zone looks largely "ravaged," the first independent assessment of the region since the conflict ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this week.
U.N. representative Vijay Nambier toured the conflict zone by helicopter late Thursday. He told reporters in Colombo on Friday that he could see serious devastation, including burned vehicles and "virtually battered" clusters of tents.
He said he saw no signs of civilians remaining in the area, and said the abandoned land appeared "almost eerie."
Nambier is chief of staff to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka later Friday to tour the conflict zone and nearby camps for displaced civilians.
Another senior U.N. official traveling with Mr. Ban said the secretary general plans to press Sri Lankan officials to allow aid agencies unhindered access to the nearly 300,000 displaced Tamil civilians currently living in government-run camps in the north.
Aid groups, including the U.N. refugee agency, complain that Sri Lankan authorities have restricted their access to the displacement camps in recent days.
Sri Lanka says it plans to resettle most of the civilians and dismantle the camps by the end of this year.
U.N. officials are also calling for national reconciliation between the island's Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority.
Sri Lanka's defense secretary late Thursday told state television that more than 6,200 soldiers died and nearly 30,000 were wounded since the final phase of the war began in mid-2006.
The casualty figures are the first ones given by the government since last year, when the military stopped providing data on the number of troops killed or wounded in battle.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.