Aid bodies, Lanka Government tussle over war-zone access

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Pune, May 21 (ANI): The United Nations and other aid agencies are clamoring for unfettered access to the war zone in Sri Lnaka, which they say is crucial to aid the wounded and to lay the groundwork for rebuilding trust in the divided island nation.

"The international community must require the prompt deployment of international monitors to be stationed in critical locations, including registration and screening points, displacement camps, and places of detention," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Journalists, independent observers, and aid groups have been persistently denied access to the region. Even now, with the government having announced victory against the rebels this week, the region still remains inaccessible, raising concerns for the fate of those civilians who have remained behind or are too sick or injured to flee.

"There's only one thing you can surmise from this. The government doesn't want the world to see what happened there - or is currently happening there," claimed Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The International Committee of the Red Cross too denied it has had free access to the war zone.

"The government has started over the past weekend to restrict access of humanitarian aid to the biggest IDP [internally displaced persons] camp, called 'Menik Farm', near Vavuniya," says Marçal Izard, ICRC's Geneva-based spokesman.

"It is clear that we are very concerned about this current access problem, because there are tens of thousands of IDPs who just have been transferred to the camp recently, following their evacuation out of the battle zone days ago.

Those people are especially vulnerable and need help now," he added.

According to United Nations estimates, more than 7,000 people have been killed since January alone, and aid groups are pressing for unfettered access to provide aid to 265,000 people, including 80,000 children.

However, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka's Human Rights Minister rejected the charge, and said in an telephone interview that 52 accredited non-governmental aid organizations, national and foreign, have been given access to about 41 relief camps in northern Sri Lanka.

Samarasinghe denies there was any letup in relief access to relief camps. But he accepts that the war zone remains strictly out of bounds.

"We will only provide aid groups access to places where they have a role to play," he said. (ANI)

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