UN chief in Sri Lanka amid fears for civilians

May 22, 2009 (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived Friday in Sri Lanka to press for humanitarian access to civilians displaced by the separatist conflict, as the island’s president dismissed international concerns. Ban is the first world leader to visit since Colombo’s assertion earlier this week that the Tamil Tigers’ bloody decades-long crusade for an independent homeland had been crushed once and for all.

“It’s time for Sri Lankans to heal the wounds and unite without regards for religious and ethnic identity,” Ban said after touching down to a red-carpet welcome late in the evening.

The secretary general said he had three priorities on his 24-hour mission, chief among them ensuring humanitarian assistance “to the more than 300,000 displaced badly in need of food, water and sanitation”.

Tamil activists have likened the barbed wire “welfare villages” where civilians who fled the fighting are housed to concentration camps.

Ban also identified the need for the Tamil minority, long marginalised here, to be resettled and integrated into Sinhalese-dominated society.

The third goal of his visit was “national reconciliation” he said, adding: “I hope President Rajapakse will reach out in