Colombo: Sri Lanka’s President on Sunday rejected a call by the UN secretary-general to lift restrictions on aid delivery to overcrowded displacement camps, saying the army must first finish screening the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s statement came in response to an appeal by Ban Ki-moon during a 24-hour visit to Sri Lanka for unfettered access for aid agencies to the camps, where nearly 300,000 Tamils were herded during the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
No respite: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Eranga Jayawardena / AP
The government proclaimed victory last week in the 25-year insurgency by the rebels, who sought to create an independent Tamil nation in Sri Lanka’s north and east.
Ban’s hurried visit was intended to press the government to ease what aid agencies described as a humanitarian crisis in the camps, with inadequate food supplies and reports of epidemics because of improper sanitation.
But Rajapaksa said security had to be assured “in view of the likely presence of LTTE infiltrators” among the refugees. “As conditions improved, especially with regard to security, there would be no objections to such assistance, from organizations that were genuinely interested in the wellbeing” of the displaced Tamils, he said.
The wording appeared to reflect mistrust among many Sri Lankans who believe some humanitarian agencies have a pro-Tamil political agenda.
The bluntness of the President’s statement contrasted with the milder tone of a joint communiqué with Ban, released almost simultaneously.
In that statement, Ban said the UN would continue providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced people, and Rajapaksa promised to “continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies.”
After visiting the barbed wire-enclosed Manik Farm camp on Saturday, Ban described conditions as “very, very difficult. It’s a real challenge.” He said the government lacked the resources to deal with the problem, but that the UN could fill the gaps.
Civilians told Ban they had escaped the war zone after coming under intense shelling from both the rebels and the government.