UN chief to urge humanitarian access in Sri Lanka

May 22, 2009 (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon was due to land in Sri Lanka later Friday on a 24-hour mission to press its government for unfettered humanitarian access to an estimated 250,000 civilians displaced by conflict. The secretary general was expected in the evening ahead of talks Saturday with President Mahinda Rajapakse and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

It follows the routing of the Tamil Tiger rebels — and the death of their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran — that ended a bitter 26-year insurgency for a Tamil homeland.

“Tonight, I leave for Sri Lanka. You have all watched what is happening,” the UN head told students at a Johns Hopkins University commencement ceremony in Washington before leaving the United States.

“You all empathize with the plight of people trapped by fighting and living in terror and grave hardship.”

Ban was also to tour the northern conflict zone and the adjacent sprawling Menik Farm emergency shelter for internally displaced persons in Vavuniya.

Menik Farm is home to more than 130,000 civilians displaced by the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to UN officials.

The high-profile visit c