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As Sri Lanka Expels Journalists and Raids Opposition, UN's Ban Relieved Still

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 -- As Sri Lankan soldiers surrounded opposition candidate Sarath Fonseca on January 27, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Press he was "relieved" by results in Sri Lanka. Inner City Press had asked about irregularities in the voting results asserted from many quarters. Mr. Ban did not comment on these.

  In the two days since, the incumbent Rajapaksa administration has moved forward to expel and deny visas to journalists asking about election irregularities, and has raised Fonseca's office while making threats of arrest.

  On January 29, Inner City Press asked the UN's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq if Ban is still relieved, in the face of the expulsion of journalists and raiding of political opponents. Video here, from Minute 12:03.

  "He still is relieved," Haq said, that election day went relatively peacefully. Haq then read out the same canned "appeal to abide by rules" which Ban delivered in person in response to Inner City Press' question on January 27.

  Obviously, that "appeal" had no effect, as the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom Ban calls a friend, has since then further cracked down on opponents and independent media.

  To the contrary, it would appear that Ban's January 27 statement that he was "relieved," the same word used by Rajapaksa, served as a green light to move from relief to further repression.

UN's Ban shakes with M. Rajapaksa, crackdown on press not shown

  Ban has set sail to London, Cyprus and Ethiopia. It is unclear if he will take questions on, or unprompted speak about, Rajapaksa's crackdown in Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

While the UN's Ban Ki-moon is "still relieved," according to RSF:

-Police today arrested Chandana Sirimalwatta, the editor of Lanka...The president’s brother, defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatened to burn the newspaper down a few days ago.

-Soldiers took up position on 26 January around and inside the buildings that house two privately-owned TV stations, Sirasa and Swarnavahini, in Colombo.

-Plain-clothes men using a car with the license plate 32/ 84 32 placed seals yesterday evening over the entrance to the office of the Lankaenews website. Men searched the office earlier in the day. The website itself has been rendered inaccessible for the past few days by the state telecommunications company Sri Lanka Telecom.

-Reporter Karin Wenger of the Swiss public radio station DRS is facing possible deportation on 1 February following the withdrawal of her press accreditation. She said, “I think this decision is linked to the questions I asked an official during a news conference after the results were announced.”

-Soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by Gen. Fonseka yesterday. One was forced to delete the photos on his camera’s memory card. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by Fonseka the previous day.

We will continue to follow this, watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Expresses Canned Relief as Opposition Candidate Surrounded

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 27 -- As in Colombo, Sri Lankan security forces surrounded opposition candidate Sareth Fonseka, in New York UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared to speak to the Press before heading on a trip to London, perhaps Cyprus, and Ethiopia.

  He spoke of Afghanistan -- confirming his nomination of Staffan de Mistura as his envoy -- Sudan and Haiti. Inner City Press asked, "do you have any comment on the Sri Lankan election of yesterday in which the main opponent, Mr. [Sarath] Fonseka, has been essentially detained by the armed forces and is challenging the result?" Video here, from Minute 13:18.

  While Mr. Ban had chosen not to include it in his remarks, he had a prepared statement on Sri Lanka, which largely dodged the question that was asked.

UN's Ban in Manik Farm internment camp on May 23, 2009
  He said

"On the Sri Lanka issue, I realize that the election has been quite a hard fought one, as stated by my Spokesperson a week ago. I had been concerned at the level of violence during the campaign. I am relieved that the vote yesterday appears to have [been] relatively peaceful, despite some violence incidents. The Election Commission of Sri Lanka has declared the results, and I once again appeal for parties to abide by the decision and rules and regulations, including addressing any electoral grievances. I truly hope that all sides will see the wisdom of acting with restraint and responsibility in the interest of the nation. This would bode well for future elections and national harmony."

  Although this canned statement was only deployed in response to the question from the Press, the UN's state media UN News put out a story headlined, "Ban voices relief at relatively peaceful conclusion to Sri Lankan presidential poll." One awaits Ban's letter of congratulation to Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he has described as a friend. 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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