BBC: UN patience wears thin in Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Friday, 11 September 2009, 12:59 GMT]
The United Nations says it cannot continue to indefinitely fund the sprawling, overcrowded and militarized camp in which Sri Lanka has interned hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. Speaking to the BBC, the UN's Sri Lanka chief, Neil Buhne, said people should be allowed to leave the barbed wire-ringed Manik Farm camp. Mr Buhne also criticised Sri Lanka’s denial of access for the International Red Cross to 10,000 Tamils whom the government calls LTTE suspects. Meanwhile the UN says it is extremely concerned for two staff members arrested by Sri Lankan authorities in June, being amid reports they were mistreated during the early days of their detention.

Since the war ended in May, the Sri Lankan authorities have refused to let anyone leave this vast camp apart from some young children, elderly people and priests. Some priests have reportedly refused to leave whilst the remaining people are not free to go.

UN agencies help fund and run the camps but there are signs the UN is running out of patience, the BBC reported Friday.

"The best solution is obviously that as many people leave as soon as possible," the UN's Sri Lanka chief, Neil Buhne, told the BBC.

"And that the site can become - for the people who have no place else to go - that it becomes an open site."

International rights groups have said holding the civilians is an illegal form of collective punishment and urged the government to allow them to leave to live with relatives, friends or host families in the area.

The Sri Lankan government says it cannot release the civilians until it finishes screening them for potential LTTE fighters, and until land mines are cleared from their villages in the north.

But rights workers told the Associated Press the screening process has dragged on longer than expected.

Also Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it is being denied access to the rehabilitation centers where surrendered LTTE cadres and those the government accuses of being LTTE supporters are held.

The spokeswoman for the ICRC in Colombo, Sarasi Wijeratne confirmed the baring of access to the Daily Mirror Friday, though other aid workers say this actually began several weeks ago.

UN's Sri Lanka chief Neil Buhne criticism of the ICRC’s being barred comes amid persistent reports of abductions, torture and summary executions in the prison camps and Vavuniya residents’ accounts of bodies being buried in cluster graves in the region.

Earlier this week the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, criticised the Sri Lankan government's decision to expel the UN children's agency spokesman in the country.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder regularly spoke to the media on the plight of children caught up in the conflict, but Sri Lanka spokesperson told BBC "James Elder's visa has been cancelled over his propaganda in support of the Tigers."

Mr Ban’s office said in a statement: "The secretary-general strongly regrets the decision of the Sri Lankan government to expel Mr Elder."

The UN chief "expresses his full confidence in the work of the United Nations in Sri Lanka, which includes making public statements when necessary in an effort to save lives and prevent grave humanitarian problems".

Mr Ban said that the UN was "working impartially to assist the people of Sri Lanka and the government should be supporting and co-operating with its efforts."


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