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UN to offer Sri Lanka more assistance


Colombo : UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to offer further assistance to people displaced by Sri Lanka’s war, a senior UN official in Colombo said Friday as the government for the first time released updated military casualty figures.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa released details of military casualties in the final phase of the operations against Tamil rebels.

He said on state television channel ITN late Thursday that more than 6,261 security personnel, policemen and paramilitary guards were killed and nearly 30,000 soldiers wounded in the offensive which commenced in August 2006 and concluded Sunday.

The defence minister said that since 1981 a total of 23,790 security personnel, policemen and women and paramilitary guards have been killed in the war. However, he did not give details of civilian or LTTE casualties.

Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff of the UN secretary-general, said Ban plans to tour some of the refugee camps and fly across parts of the combat zone where the final phase of fighting between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) took place.

Ban is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka late Friday.

“We hope that the secretary-general’s visit can help begin a process of national recovery, renewal and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans,” Nambiar said.

He said Ban will offer UN assistance for the displaced and hold discussions about the challenges related to resettling the displaced.

Regarding investigations into possible war crimes, Nambiar said that was a matter for the UN Human Rights Council to look into, and would be based on factual evidence.

Nambiar said that the UN has accepted the government’s position that large numbers of relief workers cannot be allowed into the camps due to limited space, but the government is making arrangements for a certain number of UN and other relief workers.

However, aid agencies in Colombo urged the government to lift restrictions as conditions in the refugee camps deteriorate.

“Thousands of lives are at risk in Sri Lanka because aid to internally displaced people is being restricted by difficulties in securing access for staff and vehicles of international agencies,” the aid groups said in a joint statement signed by Oxfam, ASB/Solidar, Acted, the Danish Refugee Council, ZOA Refugee Care, Forut, UMCOR, Relief International, Handicap International and Save the Children, Welthungerhilfe, CARE, World Vision and Medical Teams International.

The aid agencies said the camps are currently holding 270,000 people and the government expects another 50,000 people who left the area in the last few days of fighting.

The government Tuesday assured an Indian official delegation that the bulk of them would be resettled within six months.

The visit of the UN chief came as the country continued its celebrations to mark the military victory against the LTTE.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to address a ceremony on the outskirts of Colombo Friday, and one on Saturday in Kandy, a town 117 km north-east of the capital.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka officially declared the military operations against the rebels over after the LTTE leadership, including its chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed by the army.

The LTTE had been fighting for more than 25 years for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.