Jaffna: "The United Nations is closed," a security guard tells me at the gates to one of its white-walled compounds on the outskirts of Jaffna.
"The United Nations is closed," I repeat sarcastically.
"Yes sir, the United Nations only works Monday to Friday," the guard says.
I repeat it again. Clearly, he doesn't understand the humour in what he's just said. I suppose the situation here in Jaffna doesn't warrant the UN to work more than a 35-hour week.
I am trying to get permission to enter one of the Displaced Persons camps. According to UN estimates, almost 200,000 people are still being held in DP camps as the Sri Lankan government tries to resettle them. These camps are mostly filled with Tamil refugees, displaced persons and former LTTE fighters.
Officially, the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse is trying to relocate these people and says the camps will be closed by the end of 2010.
I go to the Red Cross office in Jaffna and seek permission to enter the camps, located south, near Vavunia.
No, it's not possible. The consequences of even trying to enter the high security areas is serious for a foreign journalist, and the DP camps are strictly off limits. I ask about the possibility of being escorted through by military personnel. Also not an option.
"The military are very sensitive about who goes in and who comes out," the Red Cross official tells me. "They are very concerned and the military will not allow any media to enter under any circumstances."
I appreciate the kind official's counsel and leave the office, not wanting to jeopardise the Red Cross work in the camps.
"Our mission is a long-term one," the Red Cross official told me that afternoon.
That evening, a government television station broadcasts a long report of 50 former LTTE fighters getting married in a camp, noting that their resettlement process is almost complete. The images are controlled, the fighters suitably contrite.
The Red Cross official's words come to mind: "Our mission is a long-term one."