Colombo, Sri Lanka (BBN)– Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Saturday witnessed firsthand the plight of some of the 300,000 people uprooted by the conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and Tamil rebels, during what he described as a “very sobering” visit to one of the major displacement camps.

“I saw for myself the circumstances in which the survivors find themselves, and the suffering they have experienced,” Mr. Ban told a news conference later in the day, following his visit to Menik Farm.

The Secretary-General arrived in the South Asian nation on Friday night, following the Government’s announcement last week that its military operation against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had ended and that all civilians had left the conflict zone.

“The long conflict is over. Now is the time to heal – for all Sri Lankans to unit for a just and lasting peace. We must help seize this opportunity,” stated Mr. Ban, who also had a chance to see the former conflict zone as he flew by helicopter over the tiny pocket of land along the north-east coastline.

Speaking about his visit to Menik Farm, he said that many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that he met with had lost family members, many were sick or injured, and most had lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods. Some even gave him letters, telling him how hard life is in the camps.

Mr. Ban discussed how to address Sri Lanka’s immediate humanitarian needs, and how to promote national reconciliation, during meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

The first priority, he stressed, is to help the government meet urgent humanitarian needs. “To do so effectively, I have told the President and Foreign Minister that the UN and other international humanitarian agencies need immediate and unimpeded access to the camps.”

The Secretary-General also called on the government to initiate a political process of accommodation, dialogue and reconciliation. “Sri Lankans of every ethnic and religious identity – Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims – must enjoy equal justice, economic opportunity and security under the law, as President Rajapaksa declared in his recent address to Parliament.”

BBN/SS/SI/AD-24May09-3:27 pm (BST)