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Sri Lanka Damage Satellite Photos Withheld by UNITAR, IOM Staff Detained

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 29 -- A UN agency produced satellite photographs of damage to the conflict zone in Sri Lanka, but unlike in the Gaza conflict did not release them to the public. The UN Institute for Training and Research has a program known as UNOSAT which produced the attached April 19 photographic report on "Satellite Detected Damages and IDP Shelter Movement in CSZ, Mulattivu District, Sri Lanka." Unlike UNITAR's January 10, 2009 report on Gaza, however, the Sri Lanka report was not released by the UN, but rather was leaked. Click here for a copy.

   Inner City Press asked UNITAR director Carlos Lopez on April 29 to explain why his agency did not release the Sri Lanka photos. Mr. Lopez launched into an overview of UNOSAT, and then argued that the Gaza photos were produced for a donors' group, and hence were released. But for whom where the Sri Lanka satellite photos produced, and why weren't they released? 

  Lopes went on to say that once the Sri Lanka photos were leaked, the agency responded by putting them briefly online. But why weren't the photos released in the first place? As with UN OCHA's casualty counts, why were they withheld and so had to be leaked? We aim to have more on this.

  At the same event with Mr. Lopez, the International Organization on Migration's director William Lacy Swing spoke about involving diasporas in post-conflict peace building. Inner City Press asked him how this process works in Sri Lanka, and to confirm or deny that there are IOM staff detained in government IDP camps. Swing said he wasn't sure, he thought there might have been one or two staff members "briefly" detained. 

UN's Ban and Swing in previous DRC assignment, staff detained in Sri Lanka not shown

  One of Swing's colleagues seated in the audience stated that there are IOM staff members in detention, and clarified that they are still in detention. Why didn't IOM say anything? Perhaps more tellingly, why didn't IOM's director even know he had staff members still detained by a government? Swing noted that he has been on the job only six months -- before that, he was the UN's envoy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- but since these detentions took place this year, one would expect him to have been told about them, and to speak publicly about them.  Video here.

Footnote: Inner City Press also asked Swing about the IOM passing out pamphlets in the Czech Republic of the government's offer of one-way tickets to repatriate immigrants and even refugees. Swing said IOM is not involved in forced or even "stimulated" repatriations. But if the payment of money to leave and promise to not come back is not "stimulated," what is it? Spain and Japan, among others, run similar programs.

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 two weeks later, the formal answer has been referral to Minister Miliband's April 12 statement, and this. On April 21, Inner City Press put the question to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose spokesman the following day cleared this response:  "UN personnel should have freedom of movement and be treated with respect." But they are still detained as of this writing. As more answers arrive or are released we will report them on this site.

  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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