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As Sri Lanka Arrests Fonseca, Censors War Crimes and Calls Nambiar, UN Quiet

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 8 -- Even after the Rajapaksa administration in Sri Lanka confirmed arresting its top electoral rival Sarath Fonseca, at the UN in New York Secretary General Ban Ki-moon through his spokesman had nothing directly to say about it.

  Inner City Press asked about the arrest, about statements by presidential brother and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that "there will be no UN investigation, and about who is handling Sri Lanka for Mr. Ban. Video here, from Minute 44:04.

Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said the UN is "aware of news reports" of the arrest but cannot confirm them. Perhaps the government's confirmation of the arrest didn't reach the UN.

Nesirky reiterated a previous canned statement, that Ban calls on "all parties and their supporters" to "avoid provocative acts" including in "post electoral stages."

   Inner City Press asked if the arrest of the main opposition candidate, for having spoken publically about war crimes -- specifically by the president's brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa -- would constitute a provocative act, in Ban's view. Video here, from Minute 46:23.

  "You've heard what I've said," Nesirky responded. He has also said that Ban is considering making appointments to lead to an independent investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

  Last week, in another context, Ban said he calls for credible domestic investigations or if not, by implication, outside international investigation as was done in Guinea. But with Gotabaya Rajapaksa rejecting any investigation, what is Ban waiting for, if he meant what he and his spokesman have been saying?

Nesirky also said he was unaware of a telephone call from Sri Lanka's foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama, asking to speak to Mr. Ban to cancel the press conference by UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Philip Alston.

(Inner City Press wrote about the call on February 4, here. As an aside, we note that Children and Armed Conflict UN envoy Patrick Cammaert has not help the expected press conference open his return from Sri Lanka in December, until now.)

  The call was re-routed to Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, about whose objectivity many in the Tamil diaspora, and in Sri Lanka, have raised questions, including but not only in light of Nambiar's brother Satish's op-ed praising the conduct of the military assault on northern Sri Lanka. There are more subtle questions about the stated and unstated policies of India and other regional powers.

  Nesirky said that the UN's Department of Political Affairs "has people looking closely at Sri Lanka," as does the "S-G's team." But are they not aware of the perception about Mr. Nambiar's objectivity? Or do they just not care?

UN's Ban, Lanka foreign minister and military, arrests and calls not shown

  This is not just a matter of keeping up with the news from Sri Lanka: when Ban Ki-moon was picketed and protested in midtown Manhattan while receiving a humanitarian award, placards spoke directly to this Nambiar(s) question. Ban skirted the protesters and their signs on the way in and out of the ceremony. But mightn't these "looking closely" staffers have taken a look?

About this referred call, Nesirky said, "I can find out." We'll have more on this. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: In Sri Lanka, the former chief opposition candidate, [Sarath] Fonseka, has now been arrested by the Government. The Defence Minister has said, he has been quoted as saying, there will be no UN investigation; there is no need for an investigation of the events earlier in the year in the country. And just finally, it’s also said that the Foreign Minister tried to reach the Secretary-General and it’s reported in the Sri Lankan press that he tried to reach the Secretary-General and was told to speak to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, to try to cancel actually the press conference by [Philip] Alston that was held in this room about a month ago. I’m wondering, just from the last bit, whether Mr. Nambiar is, is either formally or sort of de facto, being put in charge of Sri Lanka policy for the Secretariat. And I am also wondering whether there is any response to the opposition candidate being arrested given all the things that the Secretary-General said in the run-up to the election?

Spokesperson Nesirky: On the second part of your question, to do with the chain of command or the conduit for information, as you well know, DPA, the Department of Political Affairs, has people who look very closely as Sri Lanka and of course, within the Secretary-General’s immediate team, there are also people looking very closely at Sri Lanka. I’m really not aware of the details of this phone call that you refer to. I can find out about that.

On the reported arrest; you know, of course we’re aware of the news reports, just the same as you are. And we’re looking at this closely. As we’ve said before, the peaceful conduct of the first post-conflict national election and its aftermath is of the highest importance for long-term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. And the Secretary-General has repeatedly appealed to all parties in Sri Lanka and their supporters to show restraint and to adhere to electoral laws and avoid provocative acts, not only in the election period, but also in the post-election stages. And the Secretary-General reinforces these concerns that he has already expressed.

Inner City Press: Is it fair to say, because the Government has already confirmed the arrest and said what he will be tried for, which is speaking to the press about war crimes, essentially. So, I’m wondering, I heard all of the various parts where you said -- would the arrest of an opposition figure for having spoken about possible war crimes, go against, breach what the Secretary-General has been calling for there?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, you heard what I said, Matthew, and I don’t have anything else to add. We’re aware of the news reports and we’re looking at it very closely.

  We'll see.
* * *

Sri Lanka Lobbies at UN To Be De-Listed Despite Child Soldiers Recruited, Others Barred from School, Lanka's Inside Man

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 4 -- Two months after the UN sent retired Major General Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka, his report on Children and Armed Conflict in the country was presented to that sub-committee of the UN Security Council, in a closed meeting in the UN's basement.

  The report, a copy of which Inner City Press obtained and exclusively puts online here, notes among other things the re-recruitment of children by a "commander named Iniya Barrathi who was part of the TMVP breakaway faction under Karuna's leadership." Cammaert recommends that that government take action.

  But in the meeting, a move was afoot to "de-list" Sri Lanka, from its one connection to the UN Security Council. During the bloodbath on the beach in 2009, despite tens of thousands of cilivians killed, Sri Lanka was never put on the Council's main agenda. A few meetings were held, informally, in the basement.

  Children and Armed Conflict, a committee of the Security Council, retained Sri Lanka on its list. It was in this context that Cammaert belatedly went to the country. His report also calls for wider accountability and investigations. But even the UN's Ban Ki-moon, who visited Sri Lanka in May for what many called a "victory tour," has not called for or begun any investigation.

  The report has other examples of children still impacted. Cammaert writes of a "visit to the Poonthotam primary school [in Vavuniya]. Half of the classrooms are currently being occupied by the Sri Lank Army (SLA) to host adult surrenderees, disrupting the education of more than half the student population."

  With all this unaddressed, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona was seen on February 4. He spoke to BBC, he was congratulated in the closed door meeting on Children and Armed Conflict. On February 5, he has invited UN diplomats and select scribes from countries like China to a concert at the Rajapaksa-friendly Asia Society. While Kohona has been missing from the UN in New York for some time, he was still working, calling Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar to try to get canceled a press conference on Sri Lanka by UN Special Rapporteur on Executions Philip Alston.

UN's Ban and Sri Lanka's Kahona, CAAC report and investigation not shown

  Ban later distanced himself from Alston and his call that Ban start an investigation. Why cancel the Children and Armed Conflict meeting, if it was to be a venue for celebrating the bloodbath on the beach and lobbying to de-list Sri Lanka from this last UN list? Watch 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.

* * *

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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