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In Sri Lanka, Access UN Claimed Nambiar Won Is Denied, Arrested Staff UNspoken For, IMF Loan and UK

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 27 -- While Sri Lanka's government's claim it had not been using heavily artillery is called into question by its own subsequent admission, the United Nations' statements are also questionable. On April 22, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that his envoy Vijay Nambiar had gotten a commitment from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to allow a humanitarian assessment team into the conflict zone. Five days later, Ban's Spokesperson acknowledged that what was presented as a commitment has not been implemented:

Inner City Press: On Sri Lanka, I wanted to know in light of the Secretary-General’s announcement last week that there will be a mission into the conflict zone by a humanitarian assessment, is that going forward or has it, as some of the reports have it, been blocked by the Government?

Spokesperson Montas:  This is what John Holmes is trying to arrange.

Inner City Press: Currently, it was announced that it had been agreed to.  Was it then un-agreed to?

Spokesperson Montas:  It was agreed to.  We don’t know where things are at this point.  Mr. Holmes is there and he is the only one who has the answer to your question.

UN's Holmes and Ms. Montas, the screen is Gaza, not Sri Lanka

Inner City Press:  And just also on Sri Lanka, I learned, and maybe you won’t know this off hand, but that in late 2008 two UN staff members were arrested by the Government.  It now seems or I have been told and the UN didn’t say anything publicly, but some think they’re still being held.  One is a UNHCR protection officer in Vavuniya; and the other one is a UNOPS driver; both arrested by the...[inaudible].

Spokesperson Montas:  I don’t have that information.  We can certainly have it for you.  All I can say is that right now we have 13 staff members who are in the zone of conflict; and that is really all I have. [Video here]

  This last is another indication of why the UN is not to be believed, particularly when it comes to Sri Lanka. When the government detained 13 UN system staff members and their families in "IDP" camps, the UN said nothing publicly until after Inner City Press asked about it at a UN noon briefing. Of the two arrests alluded to, Inner City Press has been told that the mother of a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) staff member, the protection officer for Vanuniya, was charged with renting a room, unknowingly, to someone allegedly connected with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both she and her son were arrested, and the mother reportedly died in prison.

   The UN, local staff say, never spoke out on this, nor on a UN system driver from Kilinochchi who was arrested "for not speaking Sinhala." UN local staff have been arrested and detained on an ethnic basis, and the UN for all of its "never again" bluster said nothing.

   With  the foreign minister of the UK, France and Sweden slated for a whirlwind tour to Vavuniya on Wednesday, we question again the UK's Ambassador to the UN's statement that there is no connection between the $1.9 billion loan Sri Lanka is seeking from the IMF and the government's behavior. Perhaps there's no connection in the UK's approach...

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 12 days 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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