R E G I O N: Sri Lanka stops Annan from seeing rebels
* Secretary general pledges United Nations’ support for reconstruction
HAMBANTOTA: Sri Lanka’s government has stopped visiting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from touring tsunami-ravaged areas controlled by its Tamil Tiger rebel foes, despite his requests, officials said on Saturday.
UN officials privately vented their frustration that their itinerary did not include a stop in rebel-held areas in the Indian Ocean Island’s hard-hit north and east, while a government official cited security concerns among others.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose bloody two-decade war for autonomy killed over 64,000 people but is in limbo thanks to a three-year ceasefire, had invited Annan to visit and were still waiting for him to turn up. “I am here on a humanitarian mission. I would like to visit all the areas, but as you know I am here as a guest of the government and they set the itinerary,” Annan told the news agency on a visit to the obliterated southern coastal resort of Hambantota. UN officials said they had been striving to convince the government, but to no avail.
“It is a relief visit, not a political one. The secretary general wanted to go, but it just didn’t happen,” said one official on condition of anonymity. The rebels have since accused the government of scrimping on aid and deliberately diverting assistance away from their areas, and the verbal sniping is building up again.
“(Annan) hasn’t gone to Ireland and met with the IRA, he hasn’t gone to Spain and met with Basque (rebels),” a government official told the news agency, again on condition of anonymity. “There doesn’t seem to have been a precedent.
Meanwhile, UN chief Kofi Annan pledged support on Saturday for the reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s tsunami-battered coastlines during a tour of ravaged areas that excluded zones held by Tamil Tiger rebels.
On his way to Hambantota, Annan flew over the southern town of Galle to view firsthand the destruction caused by the massive waves, said a news agency photographer on the media flight with him. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and World Bank president James Wolfensohn joined the United Nations secretary general on his arrival in Hambanota.
Thousands of locals gathered in the streets to greet them as they toured the town and made a number of stops, including at the Galwella Buddhist temple where Annan spoke to monks about the devastation wrought by the earthquake-triggered tsunamis.
He was briefed on the overall conditions of the people in the mosque-turned-relief camp and was told a steady supply of food was reaching those taking shelter there. “We came to listen and learn today, Mr Wolfensohn and I ... and that is what we did,” Annan said.
The victims of Hambantota were mixed in their views on Annan’s visit. Before departing for Trincomalee, another devastated eastern coastal district, Annan told reporters that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would open a temporary office at Hambantota to oversee relief work. agencies