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At UN, Russia Maintains Sri Lanka Issues Not in Council, UK Disagrees But Does Not Act, No Ceasefire Call, Even by Holmes

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 -- As reports emerged from Sri Lanka of involuntary detention centers for civilians, and a government minister acknowledged 40 civilian deaths a day in the conflict zone, at the UN Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said "we believe believe the Security Council must stick to items on its agenda." He said there are "other fora" for information about the fighting in Sri Lanka.

  Inner City Press asked if that meant a so-called Arria Formula meeting of the Council, as was held the day before about the situation in Darfur.  No, Churkin said, pointing instead to the UN General Assembly as the "broader public of the UN," and adding that "some informal meetings took place where people were informed of the humanitarian situation." Video here, from Minute 6:38.

  It was unclear what meetings Russia's Ambassador was referring to. The spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when asked Friday to comment on the new casualty figures and the reports about the camps, made much of the fact that Ban mentioned Sri Lanka in his travelogue briefing to the Council on February 9.  Video here, from Minute 13:10.

   Several Ambassadors have told Inner City Press that Ban merely mentioned his call from New Delhi to Sri Lanka's president, and did not call for any ceasefire or cessation of hostilities to protect or remove civilians.

  UK Ambassador John Sawers, who Thursday had not heard that his Prime Minister's envoy to Sri Lanka Des Browne had been blocked, now confirmed the stand-off, and said his Foreign Minister had called his Sri Lankan counterpart earlier on Friday.  Given Sawers' expressions of concern -- "I've spoken about Sri Lanka here before," he said, referring to his earlier response that Sri Lanka is not comparable to Darfur, where the UK called on the government to stop hitting rebel positions -- Inner City Press asked why the UK was not using its Permanent seat on the Council to at least get a briefing in the Council on Sri Lanka. "We are sympathetic to the Council receiving a briefing," he said, adding that this was "made clear to Council colleagues." Video here, from Minute 2:30.

Mexican Ambassador Heller, outcome of request for briefing not known

  Mexico's Ambassador Claude Heller, who has yet to speak at the Council stakeout microphone, stopped outside to talk to Inner City Press. He said that the Mexican request for a briefing (which Inner City Press exclusively reported on eight days ago, here) has not been dropped  -- "segimos conversando," he said, the conversation continues -- and said said that Ban Ki-moon has sent a "special envoy" to Sri Lanka, from whom the Council might later heard a briefing upon his return. But who is this envoy? Ban said his political director, while Department of Political Affairs chief Lynn Pascoe mentioned only the head his unit for the region.

   Mexican Ambassador Heller, when asked about other Latin member states saying that the conflict in Sri Lanka is only an internal matter, not appropriate for the Council, said "the Council can get information on anything."  We'll see.

  It should be said as an aside, to answer some heated letters we receive, that to be concerned for trapped civilians is not to support terrorism. These accusations, strikingly, resemble some used in the recent Gaza conflict.

  The UN's Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes, when asked about the controversial camps and whether he would call for a ceasefire, said that little is known about the camps, that the UN has little access to the zone. He said that causalities couldn't be counted accurately because there are "no journalists present." He said, regarding the humanitarian crisis, "if a ceasefire would help, I would be in favor." Video here, from Minute 12:57.

   Rather like the UK, one noted, sympathetic to a briefing in the Council on Sri Lanka, but not requesting one.  We're told the UN's position is in flux. 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.

* * *

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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