As Sri Lanka Minister Blocks 150 UN Staff, UN Nambiar Assured by Kohona

With 300 UN staff kept out of work in Sri Lanka due to Tuesday’s hostage situation, the UN on Wednesday told Inner City Press it had gotten assurances “at a high level” that this would not continue.

Before Inner City Press could ask if the UN had yet spoke with any of the three Rajapaksa brothers who run the country, UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq specified the “high level” meeting: it was between the “chef de cabinet” of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Vijay Nambiar, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Palitha Kohona. Video here, from Minute 9:37.

To some, this is more than a little ironic. After questions about his objectivity and even involvement in the killing of surrendering rebels holding white flags, Vijay Nambiar rather than hold a press conference gave a single TV interview.

In footage never aired by seen by Inner City Press, Nambiar said he was given assurances that those surrendering would be treated in compliance with international law. These assurances were given by two Rajapaksas and by Palitha Kohona.

That assurance, as described by Mr Nambiar himself, didn’t work out. Why will this one?

Kohona, it must be noted, approached Inner City Press to deny the timing that Nambiar described. Kohona says he spoke to Nambiar AFTER assurances were given to the surrenderees.

Either way, both Nambiar and Kohona are at least witnesses for any inquiry into this war crime. How can they be the two sides of a conversation meant to protect UN staff from a hostage taking threatened and led by a Sri Lanka government minister?

Some wonder whether Mr. Ban keeping Mr. Nambiar as his point-man on Sri Lanka, despite the questions raised, doesn’t explain why the rest of Ban’s staff is seemingly unaware of the troubling scene in Colombo, and why the Ban Administration’s excuses for the hostage taking of UN staff by a government minister have been so noticeable, and different from Ban’s approach to Sudan or Zimbabwe. Watch this site.

Update: at 2:45 p.m. after his noon briefing response, Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq announced to the Press that while he had said there were 400 staff normally at the UN in Colombo, with a quarter deemed essential, the total number is in fact 200. Noted — this update was published minutes after Haq’s announcement.

July 7, 2010 — By Matthew Russell Lee

(02)

As UN Capitulates and Closes Sri Lanka Office, Conflict in Council, Bribery Alleged

With Sri Lanka government minister Wimal Weerawansa threatening to get “more serious” than Tuesday’s hostage taking of UN staff, and the UN capitulating by closing its office in Colombo on Wednesday, in New York the UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday morning. The topic is “The Protection of Civilians.”

On Tuesday evening the political coordinator of a non-permanent Council member told Inner City Press his Ambassador may raise to other Council members the hostage taking of and threats against UN staff in Sri Lanka.

He said the Council meets about the temporary arrest of a single shepherd in some parts of the world, but has yet to discuss the attacks on UN staff in Sri Lanka.

The problem, he said, is Russia and China, both of which for geo-strategic reasons have expressed support for the Rajapaksa government’s attacks on the UN for naming even an advisory panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka. Both sell weapons to the Rajapaksas; China is developing a major port, reportedly with prison labor.

But will China and Russia be willing to support these attacks on UN staff led by government minister Wimal Weerawansa?

Inner City Press asked two senior UN officials on Tuesday night about Weerawansa’s call to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which resulted in the police stepping back to allow the hostage taking of UN staff to proceed.

One official shook his head ruefully and said, “That’s a problem.” The other dutifully said “We are still checking to see who Weerawansa called.”

Well, here is a Weerawansa quote to the BBC, about Ban capitulating on even his advisory panel: “If he doesn’t do that, we will make our protest more serious.”

Meanwhile Weerawansa is blaming the subsequent (and gentle) re-engagement by police on an unnamed UN official having paid a bribe to the police. What will be the UN’s belated response? Watch this site.

July 7, 2010 — By Matthew Russell Lee

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