| UN secretary-general Kofi Annan (right) and his wife Nane in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. (AFP)
Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Jan. 8 (Reuters): Sri Lanka's government stopped visiting UN secretary-general Kofi Annan from touring tsunami-ravaged areas controlled by its Tamil Tiger rebel foes, despite his requests, officials said today.
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 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 said 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. Tensions between the Tigers and the government reached fever pitch in the run-up to Christmas, with the rebels threatening to resume their freedom struggle unless the government agreed to discuss their demands for interim self-rule soon.
The deadly tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka's southern, eastern and northern coastline on December 26, killing over 30,000 people along its shores, initially silenced the two sides' perennial squabbling.
The fact that Sri Lanka's worst natural disaster had given both sides a common enemy to fight even raised hopes it could act as a catalyst for long-elusive lasting peace.
But 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 said, again on condition of anonymity. 'There doesn't seem to have been a precedent.
'Usually receiving governments also do give guarantees of security and so in areas where security forces cannot travel, and hence cannot be a part of it, I think that also might have been a consideration.'
Hemmed-in in Sri Lanka's northeast by a no-man's land peppered with landmines, the Tigers were fast to appeal for aid from the international community and mounted their own cleanup effort, setting up camps for thousands of displaced families.
The Tigers say they have confirmed about 19,000 dead in areas they control, with more than 5,000 others still missing ' higher figures than government estimates for the rebel areas.