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On Sri Lanka, With 4500 Dead, UN Won't Ask Cease-fire, Nambiar May Brief Council But in Basement, Mexico Clarifies

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 17 -- As the UN has told diplomats in Colombo that the civilian death count in North Sri Lanka since January 20 has risen from 2683 to 4500, in New York UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq on Friday declined to confirm the UN's figures or their release. Inner City Press asked Haq if UN envoy Vijay Nambiar, who met with Sri Lanka's president and his brother, the Defense Minister, is asking for a cease-fire. Haq answered that the UN is only asking that heavy artillery not be used. Video here, from Minute 14:16.

   Inner City Press, which reportedly exclusively on Thursday morning on Nambiar's selection and mission to Sri Lanka, asked Nambiar for an update. To his credit, Nambiar responded, but said he is unable to comment. Inner City Press had asked April's UN Security Council president Claude Heller of Mexico if Nambiar will brief the Council upon his return. Heller, on camera, said that a lunch meeting next week between Council members and Ban Ki-moon will allow for a report on Nambiar's trip.  Video here.

   Since then, Inner City Press has learned from multiple Council sources that there may be a willingness by the Council to hear directly from Nambiar, but not in the Council chamber or consultation room, only in the basement in the same "informal inter-active dialogue" format used for John Holmes briefing.

UN's Nambiar, at right, headed to basement meeting on Myanmar, Sri Lanka not shown

  Relatedly, Inner City Press has again sought comment from the Mexican Mission to the UN about what, if anything, Mexico committed to Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary. He initially said that Mexico promised to keep Sri Lanka off the agenda, seeing it as similar to Mexico's conflict in Chiapas.  Heller, respondin on camera to a question from Inner City Press, called this inaccurate. Sri Lanka repeatedly the claim, and when Inner City Press sought formal comment, the Mexican Mission's affable spokesman Marco Morales provided this:

Subj: RE: here's "Sri Lanka stands by statement on Lanka-Mexico talks
From: [NY/UN spokesman at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 4/17/2009 10:59:45 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time

Matthew, in the spirit of clarifying our position, this is what we have to say:

Mexico understands that Sri Lanka is not an item in the Security Council agenda, and we have not sought to make it one. That has been our position before the members of the Council and before the government of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, Mexico – along with other members of the Security Council, the UN Secretary General and other agencies in the UN system – has stressed its concerns about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. We have also supported the actions implemented by the Secretary General and UN agencies on this matter.

We consider of the utmost importance to keep information on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka flowing regularly to the Council in the most appropriate format agreed upon by its members. The government of Sri Lanka has been forthcoming in providing the Council with information, but we think it would be appropriate for other independent sources to lend further credence to this information. We have also encouraged the government of Sri Lanka to further cooperate with the United Nations.

  So, Mexico did make certain commitments or assurances to Sri Lanka -- on information and belief, that Sri Lanka would not this month be added to the Council's formal "Program of Work." At the same time, Mexico "think[s] it would be appropriate for other independent sources to lend further credence to this information."

   Since Sri Lanka has barred journalists from the conflict zone -- and is now reportedly asking even pro-government media to leave -- what these "independent sources" of information would be remains unclear.

Postscript: Friday afternoon the park on 47th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues was filled, to hear among others a four year old Tamil boy say, in Tamil, "this is not terrorism." Signs read, "Ban Ki-moon, Stand up to Evil," and a speaker asked, "Ban Ki-moon, who do you work for?" The event was nearly out of sight of the UN, behind a construction fence, while a much smaller demonstration had a permit for the 43rd Street park directly across from the Secretariat Building. Inner City Press was asked, how do we reach Samantha Power? Inner City Press was told she was on an Obama administration call with critics of the upcoming Durban II conference. But where is she on Sri Lanka? Watch this site.

Footnote: We continue to wait for the UK's formal answer to the first of the two 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 48 hours later, the formal answer has been referral to Minister Miliband's April 12 statement, and this. 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.

* * *

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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