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Sri Lanka Says UN's Ban "Congratulates" Rajapaksa After Arrest of Fonseka, Press Crackdown

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 -- After Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa had his electoral opponent Sarath Fonseka arrested, UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon belatedly put in a call to Colombo. By the time the UN provided a requested read out of the call, the Rajapaksa administration had already publicly characterized it as a call of "congratulations," which followed Ban's own public statement of "relief" after the election.

  Mr. Ban had declined to send any UN presence to the presidential elections, and has rebuffed the recommendation by the UN's own Special Rapporteur Philip Alston that he name an investigative panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka. So what did he now discuss with Mahinda Rajapaksa?

  Inner City Press, which had asked at the UN's noon briefings of February 9 and February 9 for Ban's response to Fonseka's arrest and the assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka, went to the UN Spokesperson's office at 5 p.m. on February 9 to ask for a read out of the call. It will happening later tonight, Inner City Press was told. Can a UN read out be provided later tonight? Perhaps, was the response, it will take time to approve it.

  At 11 a.m. on February 10 in a snowy New York, the UN finally issued a manicured read out of its version of the call. But the Sri Lankan government has already issued its rosy assessment, which the UN has not contradicted. The Sri Lankan government said:

Ban Ki-moon congratulates President on victory

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 01.00 GMT

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his outstanding victory in being elected for a second term in the recently concluded Presidential Election.

In a telephone conversation with the President today (10), the Secretary General wished him success in the continuance of his efforts to strengthen peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, with assurances of UN support for this work.

UN's Ban appears to congratulate M. Rahapaksa, July 2009, after bloodbath on the beach

President Rajapaksa apprized Mr. Ban Ki moon of current political developments, including the dissolution of Parliament, and the Government’s commitment to prevent divisions harmful to democracy, and conduct another peaceful election.

In discussing the issues of humanitarian assistance and development in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa informed the Secretary General that infrastructure development was the most needed, both in the liberated areas of the North and East, as well as in other parts of the country. The Government was giving priority to this and would be appreciative of assistance in this regard.

President Rajapaksa also discussed with the Secretary General the role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the tasks of both humanitarian and development work, and stated the Government’s willingness to work with foreign organizations in necessary spheres of activity, emphasizing the need for foreign NGOs to be accountable and transparent in their work, in view of previous experience in this regard.

With regard to the special development work in the North, Mr. Ban Ki-moon was told this work was handled by Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President, who was fully involved with the tasks at hand.

In discussing issues regarding Human Rights and related issues, particularly in the concluding stages of the operations to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE, the President informed the UN Secretary General that the independent committee headed by Mr. DS Wijetunge PC, was looking into the contents of the related reports, and once this Committee submitted its report, further action would be taken as considered necessary to bring about greater post-conflict reconciliation.

The UN Secretary General was told that the Government looked forward to further progress both in the economic and development spheres, with the participation of investors and other assistance from abroad.

The 25 minute telephone conversation was initiated by the UNSG's office.

  Presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa met with Ban in January 2009; Inner City Press was the only independent, non-UN media to attend the photo opportunity. While the UN has never provided a read out of that meeting, sources have said it was in preparation of what would become the bloodbath on the beach, essentially asking Ban to speak out not at all, or only belatedly, as he has.

  Sri Lanka's February 10 description of congratulation was picked up elsewhere, also without any protest or correction by the UN. A sample headline was "UN chief vows to support Rajapaksa in strengthening peace," by the PTI, Press Trust of India.

  Hours later, the UN issued its own version -- "to enable sleep at night," as one wag put it:


The Secretary-General spoke by telephone on Tuesday night with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, and expressed his concern about recent developments in Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General urged President Rajapaksa to keep his commitment, as agreed in the joint statement, to ensure concrete proposals for a political solution of issues with the Tamil community in the North and to ensure full accountability for any crimes against international humanitarian law or abuses of human rights. He took note of the progress in returning displaced persons to their places of origin, but added that more needs to be done in this regard.

The Secretary-General brought up the arrest of General Sarath Fonseka, and he urged the Government to respect the due process of law and guarantee the personal safety of General Fonseka.

The Secretary-General said that he looks forward to continuing his dialogue, both personally and through his Senior Officials. It was agreed that the Secretary-General would send Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka soon after the presidential inauguration later this month.

Currently, Mr. Pascoe is in North Korea, with Ban Ki-moon's closest advisor Kim Won-soo. Mr. Kim is ostensibly the deputy chief of staff, with Vijay Nambiar occupying the Under Secretary General chief of staff position.

 On both February 8 and 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if Mr. Nambiar is, officially or de facto, now in charge of the UN's Sri Lanka policy, given reports that calls from the Rajapaksa administration to Mr. Ban were referred to Mr. Nambiar. (It concerned trying to cancel a UN press conference by Philip Alston, about summary executions by the Sri Lankan army.)

Numerous observers, most recently a forthcoming TV documentary, have opined that Nambiar's involvement in Sri Lanka in 2009 was inappropriately pro-Rajapaksa, and worse.  Nesirky at the Monday and Tuesday noon briefings this week has said he would get to the bottom of the question of the call and roles, but has not. On Wednesday there was no noon briefing due to snow. And the Rajapaksa administration's trumpeting of Ban's congratulations circulated worldwide, with no protest or correction by Ban's UN. Watch this site.

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UN's Ban to Call Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa about Fonseka's Arrest, Nambiar Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 9, updated -- A day after his spokesman dodged questions about Sri Lanka's arrest of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, on Tuesday afternoon UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "intends to speak" with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky announced the scheduled telephone call in response to a follow up question by Inner City Press. Video here, from Minute 7:36. Nesirky had a prepared statement, "urging the authorities to follow due process of law" and "provide all necessary protections" in the run up to "Parliamentary elections."

  Inner City Press had asked on February 8 if the Rajapaksa administration's violent arrest of Fonseka was the type of "provocative act" which Ban had counseled against. Nesirky had declined to apply Ban's general statement to the facts on the ground.

  On February 9, Inner City Press contrasted the Rajapaksas' dissolving of parliament and calling for snap elections with their arrest of their main opponent. Could the coming elections be considered free and fair?

UN's Ban, pictured with Basil Rajapaksa, arrests and call not shown

  Previously Ban declined a request at the UN provide safeguards of fairness to the presidential round of elections, which Fonseka has challenged as riddled with fraud. After that vote, Ban even expressed "relief" at how well it had done.

  Now that journalists have been harrassed, censored and prosecuted and the main opponent arrested, might Ban and the UN at least attempt to provide some type of safeguards for the second, Parliamentary round?

  And since Ban has said he is considering appointing a panel on investigating Sri Lanka war crimes, and presidential brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has since rejected any UN investigation, will Ban raise then announce the panel, which UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston and others have called for? Watch this site.

Footnote: Also on the war crimes front, Sri Lanka'a Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona has now denied that the UN's Vijay Nambiar was even in Sri Lanka at the time LTTE leaders were executed while surrendering with white flags.

 Inner City Press, which has asked the question publicly without public answer, understands that the UN is being asked again for the specifics of Mr. Nambiar's involvement, whether he was given and conveyed assurances of safety and legal compliance from the Rajapaksas which were then violated.

  On February 9, Inner City Press asked as it had on February 8 about attempts by Kohona and Sri Lanka's foreign minister to reach Mr. Ban to cancel a press conference on war crimes by UN Special Rapporteur Alston, which request was referred to Nambiar. The day after he said he would find out, Neskiry on Tuesday had no answer. Video here, from Minute 9:50. He called it a small thing -- as Inner City Press had, in an abundance of caution -- but again said he would "look into it." We'll see.

Update of 5:55 pm, Feb. 9 -- Inner City Press inquired and was told that Ban Ki-moon has yet to make his call to President Rajapasa. It will be quite late tonight, Inner City Press was told. What about getting a read-out, especially in light of talk the UN in New York will be closed on February 10 for snow? The read-out will have to be approved, was the response. We will be here: watch this site

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 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

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

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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