By Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press
Sri Lanka’a Rajapaksa administration, facing a challenge from military leader Sarath Fonseka, announced “freedom of movement” for those interned in the Vavuniya camps, starting December 1, in the run up to snap elections now set for January.
The UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on November 21 immediately issued a statement praising the government’s announcement, and on November 23 his top humanitarian envoy John Holmes came to the UN briefing room to in essence add to the praise.
Despite reports to the contrary from non governmental organizations on the ground, Holmes said there’s no ban on movement except for safety, “physical safety.” Inner City Press asked about statements by Oxfam in Sri Lanka that even “freedom of movement” will involve a system of passes and only limited numbers of days outside the camps.
Holmes replied that people will be able to leave for “days at a time,” saying this “looks like freedom of movement as most would define it.” But signing in and out of a camp surrounded by barbed wire, with any limitation on the number of days out, is not how many define freedom of movement.
Inner City Press asked Holmes about a letter from the government agent of Mannar to NGOs, telling them to suspend any operation not approved by the Presidential Task Force headed by presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa. Holmes shrugged that the PTF is in charge.
A large international NGO working in Sri Lanka was told by Basil Rajapaksa to deal only with the government, and to stop complaining to the UN. Inner City Press asked Holmes about this, and he said he is “not sure that is a hugely important point.”
But to some, a government telling NGOs not to complain to the UN is not a small thing.
It was the UN’s quiet pull out from Kilinochchi that presaged the killing of civilians that would occur. So for the UN to be less than concerned with the government tries to cut off the flow of information to the outside world is not a good sign.
United Nations, November 23 ————
Sri Lanka Defends Land Mine Use as UN Says Nothing, of “Victim Activated” IEDs
By Matthew Russell Lee
The UN and its Secretary General are said to be strong advocates for countries to become parties to the Mine-Ban Convention. But when it comes to Sri Lanka, which has refused to join the Convention and which states openly that it uses land mines, it is unclear what the UN is doing to urge the country to stop using mines.
The UN is paying for removal of mines laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Meanwhile, in a debate in the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee on October 30, Samantha Jayasuriya of the Sri Lankan Mission argued that “for legitimate national security concerns, Sri Lanka had not become a party to the Mine-Ban Convention… Land mines were used by security forces ‘always for defensive purposes’ and mainly to demarcate the limits of their military installations.”
This statement, more than five months after the Rajapaksa government declared final victory over the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, went uncommented on by the UN. At a press conference on November 17, Inner City Press asked Dmitry Titov of UN Peacekeeping and Maxwell Kerley, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, about Sri Lanka’s statement and continued use of land mines.
Mr. Titov replied that the Secretary General is in strong support of the Mine Ban Treaty. But when Inner City Press asked if Ban Ki-moon, in his many bilateral talks this year with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has ever directly asked that Sri Lanka join the Mine Ban Convention, Mr. Titov passed the question to Mr. Kerley, who described UNDP’s work removing LTTE mines.
With the LTTE defeated, the Sri Lankan government’s justification for using land mines is gone. But it was repeated on October 30 at the UN.
United Nations, November 17 —
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