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Camp conditions ‘not satisfactory’, ‘dust must settle’ for aid – Akashi

[TamilNet, Friday, 12 June 2009 07:23 No Comment]

Japan’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, said Thursday that Colombo "has lots to do" to improve the conditions of those living in the overcrowded camps in the north, where there are shortages of food, water, sanitation and medicines, AFP reported. Saying that Sri Lanka needs to wait until "the dust of the war" settles before donors would take a closer look at the massive development aid needed to rebuild, Akashi urged Colombo to engage with the international community, Reuters reported.

After touring Manik Farm, the most presentable of the barbed wire- ringed military run camps where almost 300,000 Tamil residents of Vanni region are corralled by the government, Mr. Akashi noted many appeared undernourished.

"Many people appeared to be undernourished," Mr. Akashi said after his visit.

"The water supply is simply enough. I don’t say that it is completely satisfactory. Sanitation is one of the areas that needs attention," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed in a statement that Mr. Akashi had “expressed his admiration for the tremendous progress that he witnessed [at the camps].”

However, the Associated Press quoted Akashi as saying the camps were badly congested, had urgent sanitation problems and needed international assistance.

The charity World Vision on Thursday warned that more impending monsoon rains could spread diseases if sanitation and drainage were not improved quickly, Reuters said.

"When the rains come in two weeks or so, I can’t imagine what conditions will be like due to the lack of any proper drainage and toilet system," Suresh Bartlett, World Vision’s country director was quoted as saying.

Sri Lanka has barred aid workers, rights activists and journalists from working freely in the north, where the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians have been confined to heavily guarded camps.

"I hope there’ll be at some point in time a new major attempt for supporting Sri Lanka, for new inputs for peaceful development and rehabilitation, but we have to wait until the dust of the war … settles down," Akashi told reporters.

He said any major donor programme would require continued discussions with other countries and organisations.

"Sri Lanka needs and deserves more fruitful two-way dialogue with the international community with as many countries as possible as well as with the UN and other organisations," he said.

The stand-off last month at the UN’s Human Rights Commission last month, Akashi said, was "an indication that lots needs to be done to bridge the different perceptions and different priorities in countries."

Akashi said international opinion was divided on the way the conflict with the LTTE ended, and why so many casualties took place in the final stages of the government’s offensive.

Whilst China and India backed a self-congratulatory resolution at the Commission’s meeting, several Western states backed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham Pillay, in demanding an international investigation into war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

Japan abstained at the voting of the UNHRC possible war crimes debate.

20,000 Tamil civilians were massacred by Sri Lankan artillery between January and May this year, investigations by The Times and Le Monde newspapers said, quoting UN officials.

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