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Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

S Lanka's 'Somalia conditions'

Displaced people in northern Sri Lanka
The UN says that better shelter is urgently needed in the north

A UN official in a rebel-held area of northern Sri Lanka has said that conditions for displaced people there are "as basic as in Somalia".

John Campbell, from the World Food Programme (WFP), told the BBC Sinhala service that conditions were "as basic as can be" and "much less than ideal".

Mr Campbell was speaking from the rebel-held village of Dharmapuram.

The area is close to recent heavy fighting between Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan army.

Independent journalists are prevented by the government from travelling to war-hit areas of the country - the WFP is one of the few foreign agencies allowed to deliver aid to the area.

The WFP country director for Sri Lanka, Adnan Khan, later said Mr Campbell was giving a "personal opinion" and that such "statements given by staff members do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WFP".

'Waterlogged'

Mr Campbell said that many of internally displaced people in Dharmapuram were living in flimsy shelters soaked by recent heavy rainfall.

"They are extremely uncomfortable in waterlogged camps and depending almost entirely on international aid for food," Mr Campbell told the BBC.

Sri Lankan officials say that the rain has also brought much of the fighting in the north to a halt and that only "intermittent skirmishes" between the Tamil Tigers and the army have recently taken place.

Mr Campbell insisted that displaced people were getting enough food, despite their miserable living conditions.

"It is basic as it can be. I haven't seen anything so basic since when I was in Somalia."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

Years of fighting in the African nation between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people.

Essential aid

The UN estimates that there are about 230,000 displaced people throughout rebel-held areas in the north.

A UN aid convoy - comprising of 50 trucks - arrived in the rebel-held area on Tuesday after being given clearance by the Tigers and the Sri Lankan military.

Mr Campbell told the BBC that the supplies included rice, flour and school equipment.

He said that the convoy was only the seventh to bring food to rebel-held areas in the past two months.

Mr Khan said WFP was working in cooperation with the government and was "fully committed to continue the weekly dispatches of convoys to the Vanni" region.



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