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UN Sends Nambiar to Sri Lanka, Quiet Diplomacy and Ships Off the Beach?

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 16, published 11 am, updated 12:20 -- With even the UN now speaking of a “bloodbath on the beach” in Northern Sri Lanka, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has quietly sent his titular chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat, to the region to try what the UN is calling “quiet diplomacy.” Inner City Press is told by well placed sources in and outside of the UN that at first the Sri Lankan government said no, as they have to proposed UK envoy Des Browne. Then they relented, and Nambiar set out.

   At Thursday's UN noon briefing, when Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq to formally confirm that Mr. Nambiar is the envoy and is in Sri Lanka, Haq confirmed both, video here.

Some in Ban's inner circle wonder if it is wise to send an Indian for the job, given India's large Tamil population and response to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. But perhaps that, along with Nambiar's ties with the Chinese, is what has made Sri Lanka feel comfortable.

Separately, an idea is percolating to send or even rent boats to park just off the beach, so that if the Sri Lankan government undertakes the final offensive many are predicting, even in the UN, at least there are ships for some civilians. That such ideas are circulating in the UN, while Ban's chief of staff heads to Colombo, to many indicate that things are coming to a head.

UN's Nambiar, at right, and UN's Ban sitting, bloodbath on the beach not shown

   In the 27 months of the Ban Ki-moon administration, even many of Nambiar's former colleagues in the diplomatic corps have expressed sympathy for him. On paper, he is Ban's chief of staff or chef de cabinet, a powerful position held, under Kofi Annan, by the UK's Mark Malloch Brown. But Ban's real chief of staff is Nambiar's deputy Kim Won-soo. The power lines are constantly evident, for example at a ceremony this year when senior UN official signed their Compacts with Ban and then a dozen got in line to speak to Kim while Nambiar stood to the side.

   Could a mission by Nambiar to Sri Lanka rehabilitate his stature in the UN, show what he and not Kim is capable of? As Inner City Press noted with regard to the United States -- click here for video -- the death toll in Sri Lanka may be Barack Obama's and his advisors' “problem from hell.” That's the title of a book by Obama adviser -- and recent Hilary Clinton adversary -- Samantha Power, now on Obama's National Security Council. Her commitment to the principles in the book, given her continued silence, are being called into question by some. The UN, of course, is supposed to stand for and with civilians in harm's way, and with more than quiet diplomacy.

    Sri Lanka loudly rejected the envoy named by the UK, Des Browne. In a government statement from Colombo on which Inner City Press yesterday sought comment from the UK Mission to the UN, the rejection of Des Browne is reiterated. Is Nambiar viewed differently? His supporters point out that he has “connections with the Chinese,” which might be helpful.

    Nambiar was India's ambassador to China, and speaks fluent Chinese. China has resisted even discussing the deaths in Sri Lanka in the UN Security Council chamber, on the theory that is it a purely internal matter. UK diplomats publicly takes a different view, but some question their commitment to stopping the carnage in Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe, like Sri Lanka, played an anti-colonial card when the UK raised its voice. But in that case the UK pushed forward with a draft sanctions resolution.

  Here, the UK resists even criticizing Sri Lanka's detention of UN staff, offering justifications such as that perhaps the UN staff are able to continue to carry out their UN work while in detention in the camps. We continue to wait for the UK's formal answer to these questions, which Inner City Press asked the UK Mission to the UN two questions on Sri Lanka early on April 15:

Does the UK believe that international law and the rights of UN humanitarian staff are being violated by the now-acknowledged detention of UN staff in the Sri Lankan government's “IDP” camps?

It has been reported this morning that Sri Lanka's “minister also told the British Foreign Secretary that there was concern that the LTTE would continue to consolidate its fortification of the No-Fire Zone.” Please confirm the accuracy of that, and of this and if so, does the UK interpret it as saying that an offensive on the No-Fire Zone and the civilians in it will begin? What did the UK Foreign Secretary say?

  As of this press time more than 24 hours later, the formal answer has been referral to Minister Miliband's April 12 statement. As more answers arrive we will report them on this site.

  Click here for a new YouTube 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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