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UN Silent on Boat People and Uighurs, UN Brothel and Child Porn, Polisario Detentions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 20 -- With the UN on the cusp of choosing a new Spokesperson, and according to sources also prepared to bring in a new Director of Communications, a review of last week's UN noon briefings finds proliferation of questions left unanswered or dodged. In the space of five days, the UN Office of the Spokesperson said it knew nothing about more than 250 asylum seeking boat people from Sri Lanka who called publicly for UN intervention, nor about Morocco's detention of seven officials of the Polisario Front regarding Western Sahara, where the UN is supposed to be conducting a referendum.

  This came a week after the Office publicly misstated the simplest of facts, whether new carpeting had been installed on the 23rd floor of the UN building which is supposedly being emptied by December. Some say the UN Communications shake-up couldn't come soon enough.

  On Monday October 12, Inner City Press asked about the Congo and South Korea, and got two canned read-outs, the latter only belatedly in the transcript:

Inner City Press: Senator Boxer just met with the Secretary-General. She said, of these five names that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) gave to President Kabila, that two continued serving in the Congolese army. These were five senior Congolese army officials accused of being responsible for sexual abuse of women. Did that come up in the meeting and what is MONUC going to do about the two that continue serving, according to Senator Boxer?

Spokesperson Montas: Well, I will have to ask. Anyway, it is something that concerns the army itself -- not MONUC -- to keep those guys on board. I know that Ms. Boxer discussed climate change and violence against women. The Secretary-General said he was actively seeking early appointment of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of violence against women and early establishment of a single entity dealing with the status of women. On climate change, the Secretary-General listened to the Senator’s update on global warming legislation in the United States Congress and voiced his hope that progress would, or could, be made before the Copenhagen climate change summit. This is what I know of the meeting. That is the readout I got. Ok, in terms of those Generals, I can check with MONUC whether those two generals have, indeed, been kept onboard by the army.

Inner City Press: I guess the question is whether MONUC should continue to work with units led by leaders that have been accused by the UN of sexual violence against women.

Spokesperson Montas: I’ll get your answer for you.

Question: Yonhap news service has quoted a South Korean legislator, Park-jin, who met with the Secretary-General, I guess some dinner meeting, as saying he has no interest in local politics, and Mr. Park-jin said this means there is no chance he would run for office even after retirement in South Korea. Is that accurate?

Spokesperson Montas: I don’t know. I don’t have readout of that meeting.

Question: Could we get one?

Spokesperson Montas: I will try to get one.

[The Spokesperson later added that, during a meeting with the Korean parliamentarians visiting New York, the Secretary-General reiterated his longstanding position that he has no personal interests in Korean domestic politics. Since he took office more than two and a half years ago, he has concentrated on one thing alone - fulfilling his enormous responsibilities as Secretary-General as mandated by the Member States. As he has often stated, serving as Secretary-General is the greatest privilege of his life. He will remain focused on accomplishing the weighty and ambitious agenda of the United Nations in this time of renewed multilateralism.]

  While Inner City Press had asked for the read-out, the Spokesperson's office never called or emailed it, only stuck it in the transcript. Also on Monday, Inner City Press asked about public reports that random had been paid, including in terrorism suspects, for the UN's stealth envoy to Niger:

Inner City Press: There has been a report in Canada by the Globe and Mail that for the release of then-UN envoy Robert Fowler, Al-Qaida and Islamic Magreb people were released and several millions of dollars were turned over through Baba Uld Sheikh Amalian, as negotiator. Given that he was a UN envoy, and it’s a pretty detailed report, does the UN have any response? Were they aware of that at all?

Spokesperson Montas: No, I don’t, I cannot confirm that. I can try to find out a little more for you.

In the eight days since, no information has been provided. In fact, the Office of the Spokesperson has said it won't even state on what day Fowler stopped getting paid, purportedly on grounds of security. Still on Monday October 12, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Over the weekend it was reported that Morocco arrested or detained seven Polisario representatives that had visited Algeria and the Polisario leader is quoted as saying that the UN should somehow get involved or monitor this. Is the UN aware of this?

Spokesperson Montas: I’m not aware of it and we’ll try to find out.

Inner City Press: The attack on the African Union base in Mogadishu, there is a report now over there that the UN vehicle may have been one taken from UN[MEE], and Reuters reported that the UN is investigating this lead. Can you confirm that this is the lead that the UN is investigating?

Spokesperson Montas: I would have to talk to people in the field to find out. I don’t know.

Inner City Press: What happened with the UN vehicles that were part of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) when that mission was disbanded?

Spokesperson Montas: When a mission is ending, everything is repatriated or sent to other missions.

  In the eight days since, nothing has been provided about the Polisario detentions -- a representative of Polisario at the UN has expressed outrage at the above quoted response -- and a response about Somalia was obtained only because Inner City Press itself followed up with a responsive officer of UN Peacekeeping:

On the question of whether the vehicles that were stolen by Al Shabab and later used in the 17 September suicide attack against AMISOM came from the logistical support package donated from UNMEE:

The UNMEE donated equipment, including vehicles, are in use by AMISOM and some of these are located in the AMISOM Mission HQ situated near the Mogadishu airport. None of these vehicles were used for the attack. One of the two vehicles has been positively identified as formerly belonging to one of the UN agencies. Verification on the other vehicle has not yet been made.

On the more general question as to what happens to all the UN vehicles once a Mission closes:

Essentially the final disposition of all assets (including vehicles) is planned in consultation with the respective asset managers at UN HQ. In this connection, equipment is categorized for transfer to other operations or to UNLB if it is in good/new condition. In instances where equipment is categorized for disposal locally it can be disposed at nominal value to other UN Agencies Funds or Programmes or it may be sold commercially conditional on the requisite taxes being paid by the purchaser. It may also be disposed as scrap depending on condition, and in some instances, equipment is donated to the host government with the approval of the GA.

On Tuesday, October 13, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Oxfam and some other groups have put out a report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) -- if harm to civilians continues to occur from the Congolese Army, with MONUC attacking Rwandan Liberation Democratic Forces the FDLR, that MONUC should withdraw its support from those. I wanted to know if the Secretary-General or MONUC has a response. And I wanted to make sure we were going to get Alan Doss in this room for a press conference during his visit to New York, given the other issues that have arisen.

Associate Spokesperson: We will certainly try and see what kind of arrangements we can make on that.

  In fact, Doss never came to the briefing room, but instead did a stand up at the stake out, where he was free to relegate to last the questions about nepotism, and to leave at any time. This is still between than Helen Clark, the Administrator of UNDP, where Doss directed his request for "lee-way" to get his daughter a UNDP job. Despite repeated requests, including to the OSSG, Ms. Clark in six month has not done a press conference in the UN briefing room.

Q & A at the UN, one is busy, the other unresponsive

  On Wednesday October 14 Inner City Press asked about the Uighurs, and Cyprus

Inner City Press: In China, in the wake of the disturbances in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and that six Uighurs have been sentenced to death after trials that involved no legal representation -- what’s the UN done on that issue since the single statement by the Secretary-General that there was some concern of unrest in western China? What’s been done generally and is there any comment on this in particular?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any particular comment on this, but I would refer you back, I believe that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also made some comments; I would refer you back to the concerns that she expressed.

Inner City Press: In light of the cancellation of Turkish military exercises in northern Cyprus and Cyprus as well, did the UN or Mr. [Alexander] Downer or that whole mission have any role in defusing that, or does it have any comment on it?

Associate Spokesperson: We have no specific comment on the cancellation of the military exercises. This is something that the parties themselves have decided upon. Obviously, any step which helps to build confidence among the parties is a welcome one. To that end, the leaders have been taking a number of confidence-building steps, and we welcome those that have been taken, as well as those that they intend to take in the coming days.

Inner City Press: The Guardian in the UK has reported on a climate change activist who was barred trying to travel to Copenhagen for plans for protests at this December confab. They put it as a sign that there may be some attempt to not allow the full range of civil society to be present in Copenhagen. I understand the Secretary-General’s focus is on sealing the deal. Is he aware of that, and does he feel that even those who feel the deal that may be reached doesn’t go far enough have a place in Copenhagen? What will the UN do to ensure their participation?

Associate Spokesperson: Certainly there are preparations in place for active NGO participation in Copenhagen. The Secretary-General has been trying to hear from all points of view as he goes about this. And he has, as you know, been widely consulting with not just Governments, but with non-governmental organizations, and we do hope that there will be an active NGO presence in Copenhagen.

Inner City Press: One last thing, because it’s been hanging around. That report that was due, Alan Doss seeking a job for his daughter in UNDP; this happened in June. In August it was said that the Secretary-General was expecting a report upon his return to New York. About two months later, Mr. Doss is coming to town. So I’m wondering what the status of getting that report and of the Secretary-General’s thinking on this now months-old, pretty simple matter.

Associate Spokesperson: The Secretary-General continues to await the conclusion of the process, and will withhold comment until that’s done. We checked up recently and the OIOS-UNDP investigation is in fact still ongoing.

  That is the way the UN tries to bury issues. On Thursday, October 15, Inner City Press asked the only questions at the noon briefing:

Inner City Press: There was a ship of over 250 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka that was headed to Australia and was diverted to Indonesia. It’s now at sea. The people said they are going to do a hunger strike. It’s received a lot of coverage in Australia. Is the UN system, including the Secretariat because of its stated interest in Sri Lanka, aware of this and have any involvement in it or comment on it?

Associate Spokesperson I’m not aware of what involvement we have. We’ll try and check up with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in particular, and see what they’ve got on that.

Inner City Press: At the event you were describing on OIOS in Conference Room 8, an issue arose about whether the Department of Management implements recommendations by OIOS and the example given was that, in the current report of OIOS, it states that a staff member pled guilty to charges of possession of child pornography, but remains on the payroll of the UN. Ms. [Angela] Kane said something about due process, but could you explain the meaning of due process? If a staff member pleads guilty to possession of child pornography, what’s the process in the UN, why would it take from April to October to take action on it?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any comment on this specific case precisely because of our due process considerations. One of the things we try to do is to make sure that the rights of all staff are respected as we proceed with any administrative or disciplinary matters that need to be taken, but we do take administrative and disciplinary measures, and we do that in consultation also with the Department of Management, and also with our Legal Office.

Inner City Press: It says right here in black and white in this OIOS report that the person pled guilty -- is it thought that this was somehow voluntary or coerced? It took place in Canada.

Associate Spokesperson: I have no comment on this. I do not want to say anything prejudicial about an ongoing case.

Inner City Press: Ms. Kane expressed some frustration that her reports on what’s done about these various investigative findings always come out too late. Is there some way to get a briefing both by Ms. [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius -- it’s been more than a year -- and Ms. Kane on this specific topic?

Associate Spokesperson: Certainly, we’ll see whether and when they are willing to come talk to you.

Inner City Press: Alexander Downer, the Special Adviser on Cyprus of the Secretary-General, has written an op-ed in the Australian press saying that Barack Obama should return his Nobel Prize, and it goes into why he doesn’t deserve it. What I wonder is if Mr. Downer checked with the Secretariat before publishing this op-ed, and whether you think that publishing it might in any way impact his ability to work with the United States or any other Member States, including Norway, in the course of his work in Cyprus?

Associate Spokesperson: First of all, these are obviously personal views that do not in any way reflect the views of the United Nations or of the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General spoke about this at length, about the awarding of the Nobel Prize to President Obama. I’d simply refer you to the Secretary-General’s statement on the Nobel Prize, as well as the comments he made to you on Friday. That’s where we stand on that. Meanwhile, his duties continue.

Inner City Press: Some people don’t understand, for example, Mr. Galbraith seems to have been fired for saying publicly that there was fraud in elections in Afghanistan. But, meanwhile, you have another special adviser, a USG, saying that Barack Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Is this going to be the UN’s only response -- is to say, look at Mr. Ban’s speech?

Associate Spokesperson: Beyond what I have already said, I have no further comment. The point is that this is not a matter that falls within the Special Adviser’s remit. It’s his personal view.

Inner City Press: But doesn’t he meet with P-5 members, since Cyprus is on the Security Council’s agenda?

Associate Spokesperson: Like I said, this is simply a question of his personal view, and it’s not a matter that falls within his remit, which is specifically Cyprus.

Inner City Press: : Is the Secretary-General happy with that op-ed?

Associate Spokesperson: I have pointed to you what our views are, which are, as you know, very distinct.

  On Friday October 16, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas:

Inner City Press: On this announcement of sending an inquiry on Guinea, was that done with the consent of the de facto Government, or was it done unilaterally by the UN? Was a request made to the Government of Guinea to investigate itself? I’m just wondering how it compares to, for example, his actions on Sri Lanka, and other cases where he always defers to the Government.

Spokesperson: The lead on this issue was taken by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is the subregional organization, and the UN has been working with ECOWSAS on this issue and the request was made to the Secretary-General that such an investigation take place. He has decided to do so.

Inner City Press: There was also a request that Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe, announced that he is not going to work with the Mugabe Government anymore and seems to have requested a UN, among others, sponsored free and fair election. Is that a call that the UN is aware of, and would it be willing to provide that support in Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson: We have been following this situation very very closely in Zimbabwe. I cannot answer right now on what is happening. We have been following the situation. As you reported, there are different, several issues, of concern right now, political issues. Most of them have to be resolved by Zimbabweans themselves, and we remain very much aware and attentive to the situation.

Inner City Press: The Congolese Ambassador in the Security Council Chamber said that there was an incident 31 July, 1 August, in which UN [inaudible] were involved in a brothel just outside the airport in the Congo. And he calls it a [inaudible]. And he says where are we on the politics of zero tolerance created in 2005? I am going to try and ask Mr. Doss.

Spokesperson: Please do.

  At least, even at the stakeout, there was a chance to put a question to Doss. What about high UN officials like UNDP's Helen Clark, who never make themselves available for questions? What about UN spokespeople who promise follow up answers and then don't provide them, even mis-state basic facts like whether the UN installed new carpeting a month before ripping it out? Note that on the above questions, despite already waiting since last week, Inner City Press submitted a last request and call for answers on October 20, but as of close of business no answers were provided. Watch this site.

* * *

Is Sri Lanka Postponing Visit of UN's Caemmart Retaliation? UN Claims Photo-Op Was Disclosure

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 20 -- The Sri Lankan government is already delaying the visit of the UN's Patrick Cammaert, announced a mere week ago as starting in early November. In response to questions from Inner City Press last week, UN Children and Armed Conflict expert Radhika Coomaraswamy disclosed for the first time that the government had agreed to an early November visit by Mr. Cammaert, formerly with the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo.

Yesterday, Inner City Press reported that sources told it the visit would be delayed. Tuesday it was authoritatively and multiply confirmed to Inner City Press, that the government has pushed the date back to November 23 -- a time which currently doesn't work for Mr. Cammaert.

The government's pretext for the delay is that it is moving some of the youths from one camp to another. These moves are of course within the control of the government, and it is not at all clear that the government didn't know about its move last week.

Childen in Sri Lankan IDP camp in May, November visit on children and armed conflict not yet shown

  To some, the postponement seems a heavy handed reaction to Ms. Coomaraswamy having said anything publicly about Cammaert's trip. Then again, Inner City Press' sources for yesterday's item now say that the government is dangling the possibility of reinstating Cammaert. It is called trying to control the UN's speech: quite successfully, of late.

Footnote: following yesterday's piece which questioned why Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson did not last week in lengthy noon briefing read-outs mention anything about Ban's meeting with the Sri Lankan minister, the Spokesperson points to the listing of a photo-op between the two. Inner City Press, which had seen that before publishing yesterday's not inconsistent piece, has asked for a copy of Ban's Daily Schedule for October 12, for an on the record answer as to why the Spokesperson's Office does not archive Ban's daily schedule and an explanation of how it is decided which of the S-G's meetings and calls are presented in the initial parts of noon briefings or in writing, and which are only summarized if someone knows to ask. Watch this site.

* * *

At UN, Delayed Read-out of Ban's Meeting with Sri Lankan Minister, NGO Deadline for Internment, Cammaert Postponed?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 19 -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met last week with Sri Lanka's Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe. Inner City Press learned of the meeting on October 16, and on October 19 asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm and summarize the meeting, and why it had seemingly not been on Ban's public schedule. Video here, from Minute 19:56.

  Ms. Montas replied that her Office had been holding a "read out" of the meeting for "whoever wanted to find out about it." Among UN correspondents, Inner City Press would be defined as interested in this issue, as "wanting to find out about it," and yet was never told of the meeting. Nor were wire service reporters who like Inner City Press accompanied Ban on his trip to Sri Lanka in May. So who were these interested people who were told about the meeting?

  The UN offers, unprompted, press releases and read-outs at its daily news briefing. But during the October 13 briefing no mention was made of Sri Lanka, see transcript here. Why was no read-out given of the meeting with a minister of Sri Lanka, where Ban is uncomfortably implicated?

  Later in the October 19 briefing, a staffer brought in to Ms. Montas a piece of paper and she read out loud that the October 12 meeting was a continuation of discussions held during the General Debate and by Ban's Political Affairs chief Lynn Pascoe, about political, humanitarian and human rights commitments, particularly resettlement and freedom of movement. Video here, from Minute 25:40; see transcript here and below.

 On resettlement and freedom of movement, Inner City Press has separately been told that non governmental organizations working in Sri Lanka are setting a December 31 deadline, that they cannot in good conscience continue propping up internment camps after that date, but only "open" camps, a definition of which they say does not include camps like the transit camps near Jaffna from which IDPs are given day passes but must return at night.

Given what many view as the UN's laxity and lack of transparency to date, perhaps only the NGOs are willing to actually push for an end to the internment. We'll see.

UN's Ban on Sri Lankan government banner in internment camp in May

  After the belated October 19 read-out, Inner City Press said it had not seen the meeting on Ban's schedule. It was on the 12th, Ms. Montas said. It was there. Video here, from Minute 26:16.

  Neither Inner City Press nor the other reporters it later consulted ever saw the meeting listed on Ban's daily schedule. This document, which the UN doesn't publicly archive, lists Ban's meetings with ministers and even NGOs. While Ms. Montas said it was on the schedule on October 12, none of the reporters consulted by Inner City Press has seen it. Perhaps it was put in some late revision of the schedule, which was then never seen again? Could this be part of an emerging pattern?

  Ironically, the UN's Department of Political Affairs has since bragged that Ban was "tough" in the meeting, telling Samarasinghe that Sri Lanka has so tarnished its reputation that even he is finding it hard to defend them anymore. But if Ban is supposedly talking tough, why keep the meeting secret?

  Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson's Office, again on October 19, if there is yet any UN response to the Sri Lankan asylum seekers diverted from Australia to the coast of Indonesia, and now other arriving on the shores of Canada. Again there was no answer. Video here, from Minute 20:26. The questions will continue.

Footnote: Inner City Press is also told that the visit to Sri Lanka for the UN of Patrick Cammaert, which UN children and armed conflict expert Radhika Coomaraswamy disclosed in response to Inner City Press' questions last week, now faces postponement by Sri Lanka's government. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript of the October 19, 2009 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: I also want to ask about Sri Lanka. Just two interrelated questions. I had asked last week about these… there is a list now of two instances of refugees or asylum seekers. One was trying to get to Australia; they have been on a hunger strike off Indonesia saying that they want UNHCR to come. The other one is off Canada. Is the UN aware of this? What’s the UN… given Ban Ki-moon’s…

Spokesperson Montas: I’m sure the UNHCR is aware of them. I don’t have anything specific. I can get more information for you on what is happening to them. But of course, we’re aware.

Inner City Press: And I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General met last week with the Minister of Crisis and Human Rights of Sri Lanka. I was told that he was in the United States and…

Spokesperson: Yes, he did, and we had a readout for whoever wanted to find out about it.

Inner City Press: Was it on the schedule? I mean, I definitely wanted to…

Spokesperson: Yes, it was on his schedule.

Inner City Press: What day did they meet and what was the meeting about?

Spokesperson: This was last week. I don’t have the details right now. But of course I can give you the details. We had a readout on it.

Later in the briefing:

Spokesperson: ...about what you were asking [earlier], on the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Sri Lankan Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, what we had last week was: This is a continuation of discussions the Secretary-General held on the margins of the general debate and those pursued by Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe during his visit to Sri Lanka -- on the need to accelerate the Government’s efforts in addressing post-conflict political, humanitarian and human rights challenges, in particular the urgent issue of resettlement of IDPs and freedom of movement of IDPs. So that’s what it was about. That readout was available to you last week.

Inner City Press: [Inaudible]… I look at the daily schedule everyday and I didn’t see that meeting…

Spokesperson: Because it was on the twelth [sic]. It was there.

* * *

With UN Sending Cammaert to Sri Lanka on IDPs, Kohona Combats Salt and Probes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 14 -- The UN will send Canadian Major General Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka from November 8 to 13, and "internally displaced children will be one of the issues raised," UN children and armed conflict official Radhika Coomaraswamy told the Press on Wednesday.

  Inner City Press had asked Ms. Coomaraswamy about her reported meeting with Sri Lanka's Prime Minister during the UN General Debate in late September. Video here, from Minute 42:26.

  Ms. Coomaraswamy replied that she "met the Prime Minister more socially," but had officially met with the Foreign Minister and Secretary Minister of Defense (apparently referring to presidential brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa). She said that the rights of IDP children were one of the issue raised.

   Inner City Press asked if she thought that the condition of IDP children in the Menik Farm camps in Vanni and elsewhere complied with the "Rights and guarantees for internally displaced children" which is Annex I to her Office's report to the UN General Assembly.

   Ms. Coomaraswamy replied that on "freedom of movement" and other issues, she believes the camps are "in violation of principles." She called Sri Lanka's response "draconic" or draconian.

   Inner City Press has previously interviewed Cammaert, who used to serve a UN military commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He told Inner City Press it was an outrage that the UN stands by while indicted war criminal Jean Bosco Ntaganda walks freely around Goma in North Kivu, and has a role with the Congolese Army which the UN assists. What outrages while Cammaert witness, and have the courage to speak about, in Sri Lanka and after he comes back?

Cammaert: the UN sends a peacekeeper to Sri Lanka, 5 months after blood bath on the beach

   Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona was to be found down in the basement of the UN, where Sri Lanka was sponsoring a lunch time session on desalinization. Kohona appeared recently on BBC's Hard Talk program, and said that no investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka is needed, because people just want to move forward.

  Which, some noted, is among the defenses being offered in the Security Council today, and in Geneva tomorrow, by Israel, for its acts in Gaza earlier this year. Click here for that story.

Footnote: more seriously, there is a boat en route to Australia, now in Indonesian waters, full of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. The way the ship and refugees are being treated does not seem to comply with international law. And where is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees?

* * *

At UN, Questions of Rain and Sri Lanka's Camps, of Elections and Interruptions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 6 -- As deadly rains and storms sweep through Asia, Inner City Press on Tuesday asked top UN humanitarian John Holmes what is being done about the UN funded internment camps in Northern Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 22:29.

  Holmes replied, "especially about Manik Farm," that beyond digging drainage ditches, the plea is to "get people out," whether to their homes or to host families or even to "transit camps... as long as they are open." Video here, from Minute 24:36.

  The last part of Holmes answer referred to the trend of even those who are moved out of Manik Farms simply being taken to other camps, further out of the spotlight. While the government brags that in some cases, people are given "day passes" to go out of these transit camps, this would tend to show that even the government acknowledges that such people have been "screened" and are not a threat.

  Why not just release them, then? Some allege that the continued detentions, and also the move-arounds, are not unrelated to the elections. There's been a lot of talk about irregularities in Afghanistan, but not yet on Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

In Manik Farm camp in May awaiting the UN, monsoons loom

Footnote: When Holmes comes to speak to the UN press corps, he has jokingly said he knows the Press will ask him about Sri Lanka. But on Tuesday when Inner City Press began to ask about the Manik Farm camps -- after other series of questions were allowed about Yemen and Pakistan -- the moderator tried to cut Inner City Press off. Video here, from Minute 22:27.

  Given the earlier conduct of the press conference, there was no basis, and so Inner City Press simply continued with the question.  Only in (this) UN....

* * *

At UN, Ban Cannot Stop Sri Lanka's Shooting, Blake's Visit, Report Mid-October

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 29 -- In the wake of the Sri Lankan Army shooting at least two children on the margins of the Manik Farm "Internally Displaced Persons" camp in Vavuniya, Inner City Press on Tuesday asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon if, in his September 28 meeting with three Sri Lankan ministers, he sought or gained any commitment for non-use of lethal weapons on unarmed IDPs. Video here, from Minute 32:40.

  Mr. Ban proffered a more than 150 word answer, but did not mention any such commitment, even seeking one. He rattled off "three points" -- in essence, resettlement, reconciliation and accountability -- and said "they committed that they will do as we have agreed. But we have to have a close watch and monitor this process."

  But will they keep shooting unarmed civilians, including children?

   Speaking of war crimes, Inner City Press has continued to inquire into the reason for the delay in the U.S. Department of State's report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, which was due in Congress on September 21. On September 29, a U.S. official on background told Inner City Press, "We are still working on the report. Congress has extended the submission date. We expect to submit the report to Congress in mid-October."

   This would tend to rebut reports Tuesday in the Sri Lankan press that the report is delayed "indefinitely," with assistance to the Rajapaksa administration from Israel, citing "the real assets of the Sri Lankan Air Force driving Eelam War 1V were the new Spy planes. Several Cessna 421 , Golden Eagle and two ‘Beechcraft’ super King crafts were bought from the United States for maritime and ground surveillance . Close ground surveillance was carried out by Israeli IAI searcher MK 11 and EMIT Blue Horizon 2 unmanned aerial vehicles."

  While the arming may be true, the full disarming of the report does not appear to be.

UN's Ban and children in IDP camps in May, SLA shooting not shown

   Just after Mr. Ban's press conference, Inner City Press observed what seemed to be U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake entering the elevators on the UN's second floor. Later in the day, Mr. Blake graciously confirmed to Inner City Press that he was at UN headquarters, holding meetings on the margins of the General Assembly and Tuesday meeting with UN colleagues on the countries in his area of responsibility -- which includes Sri Lanka. We hope to have more on this.

From the UN's September 28, 2009 transcript:

Inner City Press: [On the] children shot in Sri Lanka, did you get a commitment from the Government not to shoot unarmed civilians who leave the camp?

S-G Ban: Now, on Sri Lanka, yesterday we had an extensive discussion with the Prime Minister. And the Foreign Minister and Defense Secretary were also present in the meeting. They were the key people in managing this situation. I made three points clearly again, which I did during my visit, and which was repeated and urged again during Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe's visit earlier this month. First, that all IDPs should be resettled, as they had promised, by the end of January. There should be extra measures taken, particularly during this monsoon season, because their suffering will be much, much more serious during this wet season. They should immediately begin to reach out to minority ethnic groups, including Tamils. Then, I emphasized the importance of instituting immediately this judiciary accountability process for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Those were three points, and they committed that they will do as we have agreed. But we have to have a close watch and monitor this process.

  So was there any "commitment from the Government not to shoot unarmed civilians who leave the camp?" Apparently not.

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As Sri Lankan IDPs Shot, UN's Pascoe Says Camps To Be "Thinned Out," Council Should Meet

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 28 -- Just after the Sri Lankan Army shot people leaving the Manik Farms camps in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Secretary of Defense met in New York with the UN's highest officials.

 Afterwards, Inner City Press asked the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe about the shooting incidents, whether the Sri Lankan Army's web site had misquoted him, and why the UN had not convened a meeting about Sri Lankan during the last week's General Debate. Video here, from Minute 55:49.

Of the shooting, Pascoe attributed it to overcrowding in the Manik Farms camps, saying "they need to be thinning it out." He acknowledged that the Sri Lankan Army had put a "different spin" on what he said during his visit this month. Inner City Press asked about the headline "You have better story than is getting out today - Pascoe to President." Inner City Press asked this question ten days ago, without getting any answer.

  Pascoe said he was only been referring to de-mining, that he was "surprised" he was quoted "for saying things quite in the way that [he] had said them." But why didn't the UN seek a correction then, as it has when for example Sudan characterized what the UN told them in a bilateral conversation?

  Pascoe said that the meeting with Defense Secretary (and Presidential brother) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was attended not only by Ban Ki-moon, but also by John Holmes and Vijay Nambiar.

  As Pascoe sought to turn to another questioner, Inner City Press reminded him of the unanswered question of why the UN had not set up a meeting during the General Debate, as it did on Myanmar, Somalia and other countries.

UN's Pascoe on Sept. 28, Sri Lanka's "different spin" not shown
  Pascoe said there had been some thought "early on" of convening such a meeting about Sri Lanka, but it didn't happen. He added that "it is important for the Security Council to discuss... in their rooms or in the basement." Well, the UN Charter provides for the Secretary General to convene a Security Council meeting, under Article 99. Watch this site.

Footnotes: in continued reporting on the delayed U.S. State Department report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, which was due before Congress on September 21 but was then deferred, Inner City Press has been told that staff for Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont found deficiencies with the report, having nothing to do with the stealth visit of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, in Europe the possible termination of Sri Lanka's GSP Plus tariff benefit is set to be discussed on October 1, and voted on by October 15. We'll see.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

  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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