Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Friday, 26 June 2009 16:11 UK

S Lanka camp young 'malnourished'

A Tamil woman sits with her children while getting their clothes dry next to their tent at the Manik Farm refugee camp located on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavuniya Tuesday, May 26, 2009.
Most of the camps are in the northern Vavuniya district

The high rate of malnutrition reported among children in camps for displaced people in Sri Lanka is a cause for concern, a senior UN official says.

The UN's representative on children and armed conflict told the BBC's Sinhala service that the government should set up special feeding programmes.

Her comments come after a Sri Lankan charity said 5,000 children in the camps are malnourished.

Almost 300,000 people are being held in camps after they fled the civil war.

It was in the final weeks of the war that hundreds of thousands of civilians streamed out of territory held by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

The sooner they can get back to normalcy, to education, to schools, it is the best thing
Radhika Coomaraswamy
UN special representative

Since then they have been kept in government-run camps in the northern district of Vavuniya.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's special representative on children and armed conflict, told the BBC Sinhala Service's Saroj Pathirana that the UN hopes to send a delegation to advise the government on a range of issues relating to child welfare.

"The malnutrition rates are very high, especially among young children, and [there is a] need for special feeding programmes and all those kind of things in the camps for the children.

"So, our sense is that the sooner they can get back to normalcy, to education, to schools, it is the best thing," she said.

Her comments follow concern expressed by Sri Lankan charity Sarvodaya about rates of chronic malnutrition in the camps.

Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, chief executive of Sarvodaya, told the BBC Sinhala service on Tuesday that the malnutrition was a result of fleeing from place to place in the final stages of war, without having a proper meal.

He added that the Sri Lankan health ministry was working with the charity and other aid agencies to tackle the problem.

Ms Coomaraswamy said that a UN delegation would also hope to provide advice on how to treat former child soldiers.

"The issue for us are child soldiers. Are they being separated from the adults and given the special treatment and rehabilitation they deserve, she said.

She added that the UN is also concerned about the plight of children separated from their families.

"The delegation is to look into whether there is enough effort being taken to reunite them with parents," she said.

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