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On Sri Lanka, Still No UN Cease Fire Call, UNICEF is Blocked, Japan Presence Wasted

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 12 -- While the UN on Sri Lanka again declined Thursday to call for a cease fire, it wasted an opportunity to engage Japan's minister for Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, to help it regain balance and credibility on the issue. Akashi met with Ban Ki-moon's deputy, Asha-Rose Migiro, on the 38th floor at noon. Inner City Press asked, both the UN spokesperson and Japan's Ambassador, about the purpose of the meeting. "Just a courtesy call," both said. If true, that's a shameful waste.

   Inner City Press asked the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, what the UN is going to protect Tamil civilians and ensure their rights.  Pascoe replied that Ban has sent "my division chief to the area" -- apparently, the political director Ban referred to on February 10 -- and that Ban spoke with the president. Pascoe said that the humanitarian problem is "well reported," contrary to Ban's acknowledgement on February 10 that is it "under-reported." But Pascoe said that the UN is also concerned with longer term "accommodation between the communities." Video here, from Minute 4:27.

   Asked if the UN is calling for a ceasefire, he correctly acknowledge that the UN has in the past called for a ceasefire. Now, he said, the concern with with the civilian population. Why Ban stopped calling for a ceasefire, and what that might have to do with the meeting three weeks ago with the senior advisor and brother to Sri Lanka's president, a meeting that Pascoe as well as Vijay Nambiar attended, should still be explained.

   Of Mexico's request for a Security Council briefing no Sri Lanka, sources tell Inner City Press that pressure's been brought to bear against the request by some of Columbo's allies, who insist that it is a purely internal matter. Why or whether Mexico will cave to this is not known.

Japan's Akashi and Sri Lanka's president, cease fire call not shown

  The UK's John Sawers, whom Inner City Press has previously asked on-camera why the UK doesn't raise it in the Council, said he didn't know about UK envoy Des Browne being barred from Sri Lanka, but that the UK is concerned. Why not then ask for a briefing? A request to the French mission gleaned a response of, I don't know our position. The third-highest official in the U.S. Mission says her country would be supportive of a briefing, but it has not asked for one. It was explained to Inner City Press, once a request like Mexico's has been made, others wait to see what happens. In this case, silence means or tracks more deaths.

  The UN provided a read-out of civilians leaving the Vanni region, but still couldn't say which of its officials or staff are in the region, or not barred from it. UNICEF provided responses to Inner City Press' questions of the previous day:

Inner City Press: Are there areas of Sri Lanka to which UNICEF does not have access?

UNICEF: Yes. On 16 September 2008, the government informed the United Nations that it could no longer guarantee the safety of UN staff in the Vanni (the northern area of Sri Lanka where the LTTE held most of its territory). As a result all UN agencies temporarily relocated out of the Vanni to Vavuniya, the closest government-controlled town.

However, since mid-December UNICEF has sent supplies to the affected populations as part of UN convoys. These include hygiene kits, expectant mothers kits, plastic water tanks, chlorine for safe water, mosquito nets, materials for latrines, education supplies and clothes for children.

Inner City Press: How large and where are these areas?

The UN estimates there are 230,000 civilians trapped in an area that is around 130 square kilometers in the north east of Sri Lanka to whom UN humanitarian convoys currently do not have access. Due to hostilities, UN convoys have not been able to access many of these people for more than three weeks. It is likely that people in this area currently face a scarcity of food and clean water, insufficient health facilities and poor shelter and UNICEF has some grave protection concerns.

Inner City Press: Would UNICEF call for a ceasefire? If not, why not?

UNICEF would welcome a cessation of hostilities.

  We'll have more on this -- watch this site.

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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