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‘Still no access’ – UN, aid agencies

[TamilNet, Saturday, 30 May 2009 08:52 No Comment]

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and international aid groups Friday protested Sri Lanka’s denial of access to hundreds of thousands of Tamils concentrated in militarized camps in the north and the homes from which the displaced had fled. Sri Lanka is still refusing to provide aid workers with full access despite an appeal by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN said separately.

"We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting," ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We still don’t have access beyond the north of Omanthai (in the island’s north), to see if those horrible stories we heard were fact or fiction," UN resident coordinator Neil Bhune told reporters in Colombo.

UN Chief Ban had sought complete freedom for international aid agencies to help civilians uprooted from their homes by a major Sri Lankan government offensive against the now Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Bhune said the government needed to deliver on its promise to resettle at least 80 percent of the people in their former villages by the end of the year.

"That will ultimately give people living inside the camps some hope that they can return to a normal life," he said.

Meanwhile, conditions in the camps in which almost 300,000 Tamils have been concentrated remain atrocious.

The camps, surrounded by rings of barbed wire and patrolled by armed remain horrifically crowded and that basic items like cooking pots and blankets are in short supply, the New York Times reported.

Aid workers have cited acute health, nutritional, water and sanitation needs in the government’s camps, Reuters reported.

“These people in the camps need more assistance,” said Elizabeth Byrs, a spokesperson in Geneva for the UN. “They are in a dire situation. The camps are overcrowded, and we need to build much more shelters.”

She also stressed the need to resettle the camps’ residents in their homes.

“The civilians should be able to leave the camps and go back their families,” said Ms. Byrs. “It is a trauma for these people to be kept in these camps.”

On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees also said the government should do all it could to lay the groundwork for people to return to their homes

"This may be somewhat of a time-consuming process but the work needs to begin now to prepare these areas of return. UNHCR for one certainly hopes that people will be able to go home as soon as possible," spokesman Ron Redmond was quoted by Reuters as saying.

[Full Coverage]

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