- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sri Lanka has invited U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the refugee camps where recently displaced Tamil civilians are living in tents and as wards of the state, the nation’s ambassador said Wednesday.

Independent journalists and international human rights organizations have complained about being barred from the camps.

In an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya denied reports that relief organizations were being kicked out of the camps.

He said delays in getting medical treatment and supplies to some areas were due to the fact that Tamil villages were mined by rebels and that the camps needed to be demarcated with barbed wire as a precaution against suicide bombers.

Referring to the government’s victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, effectively ending nearly 26 years of armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Mr. Wickramasuriya said, “We managed to liberate a group of Sri Lankans from a group of terrorists.”

The ambassador said that the main task now is to rebuild. He said he was asking for help from the U.S. government and others in the international community to help remove mines in towns that used to be run by the Tamil Tigers.

He also predicted that the Tamil regions in Sri Lanka would be able to elect their own leaders within the year.

The United Nations has called on authorities to improve the situation at camps where thousands had arrived to escape the intensive fighting during the past few months.

“It’s urgent that assistance gets into those camps and that we are able to deliver,” U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond said, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. “We’ve got lots of humanitarian supplies that need to be delivered.”

Sri Lanka declared an end to civil war with the death of the Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran earlier this week.

Mr. Wickramasuriya said Wednesday that the secretary-general had been invited to visit the camps by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that Mr. Ban was due to arrive this weekend.

The ambassador said the invitation “shows our transparency.”

Anna Neistat, senior emergencies researcher for Human Rights Watch, said she worried that Mr. Ban’s visit would be set up by the Sri Lankan authorities to hide the harsher truths about the camps.

During previous visits to camps by senior U.N. officials, Ms. Neistat said, barbed wire had been removed and wards in hospitals had been carefully prepared.

“When some international workers and local humanitarian workers were finally able to see the real picture, those people suffered serious repercussions,” she said.

Ms. Neistat also said there were credible reports that scores of civilians wounded in the fighting have not received medical care.

Mr. Wickramasuriya said that the internally displaced Tamils enjoy three meals a day and that their medical needs are taken care of.

He said the Indian government and the French charity Doctors without Borders had access to the camps.

The ambassador also said no more than 3,000 civilians have died in recent months of intense fighting that has resulted in the death or capture of the Tamil Tiger leadership.

That figure is less than half of a leaked U.N. estimate of the civilian death toll in April alone.

When asked what lessons Sri Lanka learned from finally winning its war against the Tigers, the ambassador said it was important to demonstrate that the local Tamil population would be treated well.

He also said that one should not negotiate with terrorists once a good faith offer is spurned: “We don’t have good terrorists and bad terrorists.”

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