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UN chief visits Tamil camps in Lanka

May 23, 2009 23:10 IST

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Saturday witnessed the conditions of tens of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians in northern Sri Lanka as he appealed to a triumphant government to 'heal the wounds' left by three decades of ethnic conflict.

The Secretary General visited the camps in Vavuniya district today, where more than 300,000 people are staying, after escaping from the battle lines between government forces and Tamil Tigers.

Ban said his top priority would be to gain 'unfettered access' for UN agencies and humanitarian workers, adding that the displaced persons were 'badly in need of' humanitarian assistance. The UN Secretary General is the first international figure to visit the Manik farm camp, which is now home to thousands of refugees who fled the war zone, after Colombo declared total victory over the rebels.

Tamil activists and groups have likened the barbed wire enclosed 'welfare villages' to 'concentration camps'.

They say that conditions are 'unhygienic and unlivable' in the camps where there is threat of outbreak of diseases. For the first time, the Sri Lankan government allowed access to journalists, who were traveling with Ban, to visit the camps. The area as well as the nearby battle zones have been off limits to journalists, aid workers and others.

Some of the camp residents, who hardly had any means to maintain privacy, still held welcome signs for the UN chief. After the visit, Ban said the UN would seek reunification of families broken by the war and reintegrate the society.

"I want to help reconcile Sri Lanka and its people. Now that the long decades of conflict are over, it is time for Sri Lankans to heal the wounds and unite, without regards to ethnic and religious identity," he said.

From relief camps and battle zone, the UN Secretary General flew to Kandy to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa today asserted that the fall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has debunked the myth that it is an 'invincible war machine', and said it was important to protect the freedom earned by the armed forces.

"We should remember that the freedom to hoist the flag from Dondra Head to Point Pedro was given to us by thousands of our valiant armed forces who had sacrificed their lives to liberate the country," he said.

Meanwhile, army chief General Sarath Fonseka said LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's body has been cremated by Sri Lankan security forces, amid claims by the rebels that their chief is still alive.

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