Botham shocked by Sri Lanka war damage

Colombo: England cricket legend Sir Ian Botham has described his shock at the destruction and hardship that Sri Lanka`s war-displaced civilians have had to face, following his tour of the region.

Botham, who on Sunday visited Sri Lanka`s former war zone to oversee plans to build a sports complex, said he was "horrified" to hear tales of young children dragged off to fight the decades-long war that ended in May 2009.

"I was completely shocked. The scenery was unbelievable. Flattened lands for miles, houses shelled, treetops burnt," he told reporters after visiting the project site at Mankulam, 300 kilometres (187 miles) north of Colombo.

"I was surprised how wide spaced the place (northern war zone area) was, everything was so flat. It was like a wilderness," the former player said.

The project is led by Sri Lanka`s world record bowler Muttiah Muralitharan`s charity, the Foundation of Goodness, to help thousands of children in the former conflict zone.

Muralitharan, who has a record 800 Test and 538 one-day scalps to his credit, plans to build a school, English and IT training centres and an Elders` Home over the next two years to help war-displaced people rebuild their lives.

Botham, who was joined on the tour by former Ashes-winning England cricket captain, Michael Vaughan, played a friendly match with local children, which included several former child soldiers.

More than 500 child soldiers were picked up by the Sri Lankan military after they defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in a bloody final battle, ending 37-years of ethnic bloodshed.

"These children, they looked so innocent, warm and friendly," Botham said of the former child soldiers, who have since been rehabilitated and allowed to return to their families.

Botham and Vaughan also visited a school in Mankulam and handed out food, mosquito nets, torches, cooking utensils and stoves.

"It amazed me that so many things I took for granted like clean water, mosquito nets, bicycles, meant a lot to these people who have endured decades of a horrible war," the 55-year-old said.

PTI