UN Boss Tells Sri Lanka it Cannot Confront Humanitarian Challenge Alone
By Steve Herman
Kandy, Sri Lanka
24 May 2009

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at a news conference in Kandy, Sri Lanka
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at a news conference in Kandy, Sri Lanka
The United Nations' top official, during a 24-hour visit to Sri Lanka, got a first-hand look at the country's largest camp for civilians displaced by the recently ended war. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also flew over the devastation where the final battle occurred.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Sri Lanka's government leaders not to view their civil war victory as a defeat of the Tamil people.

Mr. Ban, at a joint news conference with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama, predicted that history could repeat itself if there is no reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.

The United Nations estimates the war left as many as 100,000 people dead.

Two girls await arrival of UN Secretary General at Manik Farm
Two girls await arrival of UN Secretary General at Manik Farm
The end of the quarter-century conflict has scattered 300,000 Tamils. More than two-thirds of them are at a sprawling displacement camp called Manik Farm. The Secretary-General on a tour of it (Saturday) said it was clear Sri Lanka does not have adequate resources to handle the situation alone. He said such a huge challenge could only be adequately confronted with help from the international community.

In one of the camp's tents, the Secretary General visited a girl with wounds to both her legs. She had been hit by shrapnel and arrived in the camp five days earlier. She says there is no medical facility in the camp for her surgery and she cannot even get pain pills. Mr. Ban told her he hopes she will be able to walk soon and to go to school.

At a neighboring tent he met another family, which had survived shelling by hiding in bunkers. The Secretary General promised them they would be able to return home. "Before then we'll provide the food, water, sanitation, medicines and schools. So, have great courage and great hope for the better future," he said.

The Secretary-General did not stop at the temporary home of a school teacher, who identified himself as Kumar. His mother and sister died in the family's escape from the combat zone. He says conditions are worse in other areas of the sprawling camp. "All the VIPs are coming and they are showing this area only. If they go the downside they can see the real situation of this camp. The people, they're suffering," he said.

In addition to shortages of water and toilets and adequate medical care, the displaced also complain there is no freedom of movement at Manik Farm.

Later in the day, here in Kandy, the top U.N. official met President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But Sri Lanka appears not to have made any immediate concessions on Mr. Ban's calls for unhindered access to the camps by international aid organizations and that screening of the displaced be expedited so families can be reunited.

The Secretary General is welcoming the president's promise to resettle most of the displaced Tamils by the end of the year.