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Petition on Sri Lanka War Crimes Is Fake Carried Into Empty Building by UN Staffer, Nambiar Stonewalls

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 18 -- On the second anniversary of the bloody end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, outside the UN in New York chants of “UN, UN, Never again” and “Ban Ki-moon, Act Now” echoed off the white metal building where Secretary General Ban's office now is.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if the UN's envoy to Sri Lanka Vijay Nambiar would be willing to answer some questions, about his role in the final stage of the conflict, watching Unmanned Aerial Vehicle footage and telling surrenderees to come out with white flags, whereupon they were killed.

No, Nesirky replied, Nambiar would not be taking questions from the press, even after he spoke to the Security Council the next day.

Out on Dag Hammarskjold Park when Inner City Press went out into the rain after this inter-change to cover the protest, the name of Nambiar came up. Leaders of the demonstration said the UN had promised to at least send an official to meet them inside and accept a petition from them. The UN had asked, they said, that there be no press coverage.

For that reason, Inner City Press did not stand with them in the lobby of the General Assembly as the time for the meeting or encounter came and went. Inner City Press was speaking with another journalist, about another topic, when a staffer of the UN Department of Political Affairs working under Tamrat Samuel belatedly met the Tamil group.

Inner City Press did not interrupt the brief exchange, but did take a picture of the petition being handed over. [Later, the UN requested that even a photograph not be published. Hence this:]

In UN lobby May 18, '11 waiting for next UN assistant (c) MRLee

  After that, the UN staffer walked not toward the North Lawn building with Ban's office in it, but rather into the General Assembly, toward the entirely closed Secretariat building.

   Mystified, Inner City Press followed and watched as the staffer looked behind him, stopped then reversed his steps. He had walked purposefully toward a dead end to give the impression of resolve. But with the Tamils having left the General Assembly building, he walked again the length of the lobby and toward the North Lawn building.

   Inner City Press followed him and asked, what will happen with the petition? He shrugged, “can't really say.”

Since some Ban staffers have been telling Inner City Press that Ban would do “something” about the UN Panel of Experts report alleging tens of thousands of civilians killed, Inner City Press asked what to expect. Again, there was no answer.

Inner City Press told him it was Ban or Nambiar, really, who should be answering press questions. This seems undeniable. But Ban has not held a press conference in months, and is heading out of New York again, first to Cote d'Ivoire.

A sign out on Dag Hammaskjold Plaza read, "UN: Libya - yes! Ivory Coast - Yes! Why not Sri Lanka?" Why not indeed. Watch this site.

* * *

At UN on Sri Lanka, Weerawansa Speaks of Buddha, Silva of Love, Ban Has No Comment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 16 -- Relations between the UN and Sri Lanka took a surreal turn on May 16 when the minister who organized a blockade of the UN in Colombo last year Wimal Weerawansa appeared in the General Assembly, shaking hands with UN Under Secretary General Kiyotaka Akasaka and others.

While Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky refused to confirm, much less comment on, Weerawansa's speech at a meeting on Buddhism in Ban's presence, Inner City Press managed to speak with Weerawansa later in the day.

With Shavendra Silva, a Sri Lankan General who is now its Deputy Permanent Representative doing the translating, Inner City Press asked Weerawansa to contrast his visit to the UN with his calls to replace it, his organization of a blockade and so-called fasting unto death.

After a pause, Silva relayed “He says we are a member state of the United Nations, and he can here to attend the 2,600 year anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment. He's happy he attended the 2,600 year celebration herein New York.”

At UN May 16: Silva, Weerawansa, Kohona, Ban Ki-moon not shown (c) MRLee

Earlier, Silva had shown Inner City Press a copy of his book, which begins with a quote that “anger can't be overcome by anger, because it has no end in itself - it can only be overcome by compassionate loving kindness.”

The book contains photographs by Helen Bohn Andersen. Inner City Press ask her about the irony of co-authoring a book with a general in charge in a military action that reportedly killed tens of thousands of civilians. “I didn't write the text,” she said. “I only took the photographs.”

Here is from the UN's May 16 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: at this meeting on Buddhism this morning, Wimal Weerawansa, it’s reported, it’s under the Colombo page, that the Minister of the Sri Lankan Government who led the protest against the UN compound in Colombo was present here. I don’t know if it’s true or not, I just know it’s reported in the press there. Is that the case, is the UN aware of Wimal Weerawansa, and what do you say about that?

Spokesperson Nesirky: And what would be your problem if that person was there?

Inner City Press: No, I want to know, did Ban Ki-moon meet with Wimal Weerawansa, and if so, would you have any…?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I have no idea. As you would have also seen if you went there, there was a lot of people and I do not know. I suspect that the Secretary-General moved on to other appointments without working his way around the room, Matthew.

Inner City Press: No, my point is the UN accredits people to come into the building. Since this is an individual that the UN condemns his organization of a blockade of UN staff in Colombo…

Spokesperson: Well, as we’ve said before, peaceful demonstrations are legitimate. Where someone has crossed the threshold and the authorities have taken action against them, that would be a different matter. But peaceful demonstrations are not against the law.

Question: Didn’t you condemn the Wimal Weerawansa sponsored demonstrations at the time?

Spokesperson: The point I am trying to make is that if people are demonstrating, they are legally entitled to demonstrate, and the demonstrations are peaceful, then they are legitimately entitled to do that. If I have any information about this person’s presence, and as you yourself said, you don’t know for a fact that that person was there. But you’ve seen reports.

Question: These are reports I am asking you to check with DSS [Department of Safety and Security] whether a pass was granted for Wimal Weerawansa…?

Spokesperson: Yes, yes, Matthew, I hear, and as your dutiful servant, I will take a look and find out, okay?

But after that, Nesirky never provided any answer, even nine hours later.

Footnote: Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona was also on the scene, insisting that Inner City Press take a picture with Weerawansa. Inner City Press obliged. We'll see.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, Ban Claims UN Couldn't Assess Casualties, Leak Shows UN Did

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 27 -- On Sri Lanka, UN “staff were not in the position to assess” the number of casualties in 2009, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky told the Press on April 27, as they had to withdraw because the Government said security could not be guaranteed.

But as Inner City Press reported and published on March 27, 2009, a detailed UN document it obtained reported that the "minimum number of documented civilian casualties since 20 January 2009, as of 7 March 2009 in the conflict area of Mullaitivu Region [is] 9,924 casualties including 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries.”

Click here for the leaked document, and here for Inner City Press' report which exclusively published it.

Ban's UN refused to confirm its own Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs casualty figures. It now appears, including based on statements by staff who have since left the UN, that Ban's UN consciously decided to withhold and once leaked deny the casualty information it WAS in the position to compile.

Nesirky on April 27, when Inner City Press followed up on questions it put to Ban the previous day, said that this topic and others will now be reviewed by the UN, by Ban and his senior advisers.

Inner City Press asked Nesirky if Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, who was involved in the White Flag killings which appear in the UN report at Paragraph 171, will be one of the senior advisers involved in the review.

“There are many senior advisers,” Nesirky said, adding that the review “will look at the full range of topics contained” in the report.

The question remains: should a senior adviser like Nambiar be allowed to play any role in the review of an incident he was involved in? The answer should have been, and should be, no -- but hasn't been.

Inner City Press asked if this review will be made public. Nesirky would not say, but acknowledged that there is a public interest in it. With 40,000 civilians reportedly killed, yes there is a public interest.

Amazingly, after Ban said he “is advised” that the report's recommendations can only be investigated if the Rajapaksa government consents or members states vote for it in an intergovernmental forum, Ban when he reported on Sri Lanka to the UN Security Council on April 26 did not even ask them to schedule a vote on the recommendation for an investigation of war crimes. We'll have more on this.

From the Panel of Experts report:

The "White Flag" incident

170. Various reports have alleged that the political leadership of the LTTE and their dependents were executed when they surrendered to the SLA. In the very final days of the war, the head of the LTTE political wing, Nadesan, and the head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat Pulidevan, were in regular communication with various interlocutors to negotiate surrender. They were reportedly with a group of around 300 civilians. The LTTE political leadership was initially reluctant to agree to an unconditional surrender, but as the SLA closed in on the group in their final hideout, Nadesan and Pulidevan, and possibly Colonel Ramesh, were prepared to surrender unconditionally. This intention was communicated to officials of the United Nations and of the Governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to representatives of the ICRC and others. It was also conveyed through intermediaries to Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and senior officers in the SLA.

171. Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa [sic?] provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route indicated by Basil Rajapaksa.[sic?]  Requests by the LTTE for a third party to be present at the point of surrender were not granted. Around 6.30 a.m. on 18 May 2009. Nadesan and Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Colonel Ramesh followed behind them, with another group. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead. Subsequently, the Government gave several different accounts of the incident. While there is little information on the circumstances of their death, the Panel believes that the LTTE leadership intended to surrender.

  On the morning of April 21, Inner City Press asked Ban's top two spokesmen to "please state the role of Mr. Nambiar in reviewing the report." No response has yet been received, more than 60 hours later. We will have more on this. 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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