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As Sri Lanka Ignores UN's Call for Cessation of Hostilities, Detention Camps UNcommented On

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 24 -- A day after the UN's Ban Ki-moon belatedly called for a "cessation of hostilities" in Sri Lanka, his Deputy Spokeswoman declined to directly respond to that country's foreign minister's statement that Ban has never called for a ceasefire, and never conveyed any similar request to Sri Lanka.  "You heard what he said," the UN's Marie Okabe told Inner City Press. "You asked him the question."

  But what about Sri Lanka ignoring the UN's call for a cessation of hostilities? "Listen to his remarks," Ms. Okabe repeated. When asked if Ban, who has left for a trip to Africa including to view the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, had conveyed his call to stop the fighting to Sri Lanka, Okabe declined to comment. Video here, from Minute 10:22.

  By contrast, Ban has convened to his office the Ambassadors of, among others, Sudan and Israel, to tell them directly when he is calling for government forbearance. In these disparate conflicts, in which government military action has killed civilians like in Sri Lanka, the UN has clearly used the term ceasefire, and conveyed it to the foreign service of each country. Why not in Sri Lanka?

  A senior Ban administration official tells Inner City Press that Ban's "private notes" to Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa have "been tough." Why then allow Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama to so publicly contract what is supposedly the UN's position?  Sri Lanka is viewed as "delicate," the official said, adding that Team Ban's view is that the Tamil Tigers lost support with their own people, even that some things must be accepted in the name of nation-building.  He predicted that Mahinda Rajapaksa will call for elections soon, "to further strengthen his hand."

   The official says the the UN Country Team was consulted and was asked if those Tamil fleeing the shelling in the zone of conflict are "leaving along with their men," and whether the government was separating out the men once they are retained in the camps that are under construction. Yes and no, he said the Country Team told him, adding that "unless they have gone native... things are not that bad." He compared this account to the separation and beating of male refugees in the Balkans.

UN's Ban and Sri Lanka's foreign minister, cessation of hostilities call not shown

   While the Gaza conflict differs in that while Israel conducted its offensive, it closed all border crossing, effectively sealing civilians in the zone of conflict, the ad hoc litmus test the UN is now using differs markedly from its approach to Darfur. There, the government's resistance at ceasefire calls, for example earlier this year in a town in South Darfur, triggered detailed and insistent public statements by the UN. In the case of Sri Lanka, a wan and too-lat call for a cessation of hostilities has been made, and then not followed-up on.

   Rohitha Bogollagama was quoted that "I appreciate the call made by Sir John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General [for] the LTTE to free civilians." Before Holmes left on his government-controlled trip to Sri Lanka, Inner City Press asked him if the UN will be providing financial support for what some call concentration camps. Holmes said of course not.

  Now, after acknowledging that he relied on the government's Minister for Relocation for translation, Holmes and his spokesperson have declined for 24 hours to comment on detailed first-person accounts of violations of international humanitarian law in the camps the government is setting up. On Friday, Okabe preempted questions by saying that after his conveniently-timed trip to Colombia, Holmes will be back at the UN this Friday. We will have more on these topics at that time.

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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