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On Sri Lanka, UN Thinks Envoy's No Help, UK Will Not Punish

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Exclusive Video

UNITED NATIONS, May 1, updated -- As thousands of civilians were killed in Sri Lanka in the month of April, the response of the UN Security Council was to hold a series of closed door meetings in the basement of the UN. After each, Ambassadors including of Sri Lanka and UN humanitarian officials came out and spoke to the Press, filmed by UN Television cameras. On April 30, however, the UN did not send any UN TV camera to the basement.

When Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, on the last day of his Presidency of the Council, emerged from the meeting, there was only one member of the media waiting to hear him: Inner City Press. You have a monopoly, Heller joked. It's not something that Inner City Press wanted or wants. Two other reporters finally arrived, and the interviews began.

  Heller read a bland statement, then cryptically answered Inner City Press that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could “strengthen the cooperation” with the Government of Sri Lanka, by sending a dedicated special envoy. He did not answer Inner City Press' question if the Council knows that the Sri Lankan Army continues to use heavily weapons in the so-called No Fire Zone.

   The UN's top humanitarian John Holmes, on the other hand, told the Press that it would not be “particularly helpful” for the UN to send “a Special Envoy at this time.” Exclusive video here, at Minute 6:18.

  Inner City Press had gotten a leaked copy of Holmes testimony to the Council in its closed door meeting, and asked about a line in which Holmes “expressed [the UN's] concern about a proposed Memorandum of Understanding for NGOs providing humanitarian assistance.” Holmes answered that the MOU would require the NGOs to share information with the government, but he declined to say what kind of information. Exclusive video here, at Minute 3:50.

Inner City Press asked about reports that young men are being plucked from the IDP detention camps and taken to an abandoned hospital in Kilinochchi, interrogated and disappeared. Holmes responded that such interrogations are “legitimate... for up to a year,” but conceded that there is no monitoring. Exclusive video here, at Minute 5:36.

   Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Palihakkara told Inner City Press he was not aware of the reports of events at the hospital in Kilinochchi. He also said that he had not read the MOU that Holmes complained of, but that “I can check that.” Inner City Press asked him how many civilians the Government says there are in the conflict zone -- or “Remaining Area,” as he called it. Palihakkara put the figure at 20,000. Exclusive video here.

UK's Sawers and Miliband earlier this year, use of GSP Plus EU tariff not shown

   Based an interview earlier on Thursday with a senior advisor to Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked if the government would consider offering amnesty to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam below the founder. Palihakkara called that “sensitive... because some of them are accused of crimes including the murder of the head of state of a neighboring country.”

  Inner City Press asked if the founder were caught, would he get handed over to India, put on trial in Sri Lanka, or what? Palihakkara called that “rich speculation.” Inner City Press concluded, at Palihakkara walked away, by asking for the Government of Sri Lanka's stance on the UN sending a special envoy to the conflict. Palihakkara said, it depends on what. And that he was gone.

The UN sent a special envoy to Zimbabwe, and the UK and others put Zimbabwe on the agenda of the Security Council and proposed a sanctions resolution, for fewer civilians dead, even knowing or having reason to know that the resolution would be vetoed. Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador John Sawers to explain the difference. Sri Lanka, he said, is a legitimate democratically elected government fighting a terrorist group. But for dead civilians, what is the difference?

In Sawers' previously appearance in this location in the UN's basement, Inner City Press asked him if the UK would use Sri Lanka's pending loan application at the International Monetary Fund as leverage to try to save civilian lives. Then, Sawers said he saw no relation between the deaths and the IMF loan.

   On April 30, Inner City Press asked Sawers if the UK would use the pending European Union tariff waiver for Sri Lankan textiles, the GSP Plus dating to the time after the tsunami. Exclusive video here, from Minute 5:58.

   “We're not in the job of penalizing the government of Sri Lanka,” Sawers said -- thus throwing away leverage and, some say, seriousness. US Ambassador Susan Rice left without taking any Press questions, though the U.S. Mission has put her comments in the closed door meeting on their web site. France, as they point out on the other hand, has put online only Ambassador Ripert's comments to the press outside the closed-door meeting.

We note that at the May 1 UN noon briefing, Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe refused to give any response about John Holmes statement about the Memorandum of Understanding the government intends to require from NGOs, on the grounds that Thursday's proceedings were closed and not a formal Council meeting.

   Perhaps there is another explanation of Sawers comment, perhaps the UK, France and UK will take actions not described by Sawers. With Russia assuming the Security Council presidency for May, action in the Council on Sri Lanka is decidedly less likely. Watch this site.

Update of 12:42 p.m. -- at Friday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe why there was no UN TV camera, as there had been for previously similar sessions on Sri Lanka in the basement. It was not a meeting of the Security Council, Ms. Okabe said, insisting, you have to ask the Security Council.

  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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