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Sri Lanka Army Claims Dutch Ambassador Support Despite EU Human Rights Cut of GSP Plus Concession

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 5 -- As the European Union cut off Sri Lanka's trade concession on human rights grounds, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense claimed that EU member (and World Cup semi finalist) The Netherlands “appreciates the diplomatic and strategic position upheld by the Government of Sri Lanka with respect to the pressure exerted by certain countries in connection with the internal political issues of the country.”

This appreciation was sourced to Leoni Cuelenaere, The Netherlands' Ambassador to Sri Lanka in a July 2 meeting with Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, and was placed on the government's web site and numerous other sites.

Since this seemed a strange position for an EU member to express, email inquires were made with Leoni Cuelenaere, resulting in an electronic reply that “as you can imagine, I said nothing of the kind!”

But why, then, has not The Netherlands and the EU more publicly sought a retraction from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense and the other sites which have carried and are carrying this presentation of The Netherlands' position?

Leoni Cuelenaere and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, no correction shown

  Similarly, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Jamaica, he has said nothing about Sri Lankan Minister Wimal Weerawansa's threat to take UN staff in Colombo hostage. Ban's Associate Spokesman has said that Weerawansa's call was only as an individual, despite his position with the Rajapaksa government.

 But now that Weerawansa has said he was officially speaking for a political party that is part of the Rajapaksas' coalition, the National Freedom Front, one expects at least a correction, and more substantively some defense of UN staff, from the Secretary General. We're still waiting.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Party in Power Threatens UN Staff, Ban Stays Silent, DPR To Go

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 4 -- The UN said it was an “individual opinion,” when Sri Lanka's Minister for Housing and Construction Wimal Weerawansa last week called for UN staff in Colombo to be taken hostage to forestall any consideration of war crimes.

  Inner City Press inquired a second time, and the same UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said “we have received some indications that an apology might be in order... I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.”

   Now, Weerawansa has said he was and is speaking for a political party that is part of the Rajapaksa coalition, the “National Freedom Front.”

  The UN hasn't clarified or amended its obfuscation of the threat against its staff. In fact, a senior UN official tried to call the threat “Gandhian,” a sort of non-violent hostage taking. Talk about the Stockholm syndrome, one wag mused.

  In fact, the UN's hopeful or intentionally misleading statement of receiving indications - from whom? - that “an apology might... come through” was shot down the next day, with the UN on vacation:

When asked by Daily Mirror online if he was under any pressure regarding his comment after it had created a lot of controversy, Weerawansa said there was no such pressure as the position was that of his party. 'We should surround the UN office in Colombo and put pressure on UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon to reverse his decision to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka. I am saying this as the leader of the NFF.'”

  Mr. Ban, who was spending a full eight hours in a pro-Kabila parade in Kinshasa when the first threat came in from Colombo, is now headed to Jamaica. Will he address the clarified and sharpened threat to UN staff?

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Bandula Jayasekara, threats not shown

  Ban travels, but so do Sri Lankan diplomats. It was only in April that Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona invited Inner City Press to a reception to greet his incoming Deputy Bandula Jayasekara. In the Sri Lankan residence high over Second Avenue and the UN, Jayasekara told Inner City Press he was a “new school” diplomat. Indeed.

Less than a month later, Jayasekara began hand delivering threatening and repetitive letters to Inner City Press. The first -- non threatening, tied to a quote and therefore the only one we published - read as follows:

From: PA2DPR
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Date: Mon, May 10, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Report, Inner City Press

Dear Sir, Pl. find attached, a letter addressed to you by Mr. Bandula Jayasekara, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka.

Hemantha Perera, PA to DPR

10th May, 2010

Ref. Media/2010

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Reporter
Inner City Press, Room: S-453A [sic]
UN Headquarters, New York N.Y. 10017

Dear Sir,

This refers to the question posed by you to Mr. Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for UNSG at the UN daily noon briefing held on 7.5.2010 “In the last 24 hours the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said that anyone that would seek to testify about war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government should be put to death. It’s a capital offence and it’s treason”.

We have inquired into this matter and Mr. Rajapaksa has not, I repeat not, made such a statement. Your question is not based on fact, and is patently mischievous, misleading and incorrect.

We kindly request you to reproduce this letter for the sake of fair play. As a man of integrity, in the media, you should not mislead the people who read your blog. You should not abuse the position of blogging privilege. I sincerely hope you would uphold the ethics of blogging.

Thank you,

Bandula Jayasekara
Deputy Permanent Representative

  There was no problem with publishing the letter -- the goal of the letter and its cc to a journalists' group were not clear -- but there was and is equally no problem with providing the basis of the question: it was on the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence's own web site.

Now comes word that Jayasekara is being recalled to Colombo. We hardly knew ye... Kohona, a fixture on the UN social scene, has not been seen for weeks, ever since his ironic service on a three person panel investigating possible war crimes in what the UN calls Western Asia. At a recent reception for Colombia, Sri Lanka's number three wandered around. Inner City Press greeted him, but he did not respond. So much for diplomacy. Watch this site.

From the UN's June 30 transcript:

Inner City Press: in Sri Lanka the Minister for Housing and Construction, Wimal Weerawansa, has been quoted as saying, urging the, under the headline “Take UN Lanka staff hostage”, he said, urging the public to surround the UN office in Sri Lanka and trap the staff inside with regard to the panel and any consideration of war crimes in the country. First of all, what’s the UN’s response to a Government minister saying to keep UN staff hostage, what preparations are being made and what’s your response to it?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, in terms of that, on the various levels. First of all, on the security level, our security officials are aware of these remarks. They would certainly try to check whether this official was quoted correctly and what he meant by that. The Government has assured us this is an individual opinion

Though false, this is not been corrected. Watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Continues to Spin Threat Against Its Staff, From Gandhi to Apology?

By Matthew Russell Lee, News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- When a government's minister openly urges that UN staff members be taken hostage, what does the UN say? If the country were for example Sudan, the UN would immediately denounce it. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon takes a different approach to Sri Lanka.

  At first this was, sources in the Ban administration said, due to Ban's contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa back when Ban was South Korean foreign minister. Now added to Ban's reticence is the pro-Rajapaksa positions of Russia and China, either of which could veto a second term for Ban.

  And so we have the absurd result of Ban's spokespeople excusing the hostage taking call by Sri Lankan minister Wimal Weerawansa. Inner City Press asked, and was told by the UN spokespeople that perhaps he had been misquoted. Then that, although a government minister, he had been speaking in his individual and not governmental capacity. Oh that Stanley McChrystal could get away with that one, mused one wag.

   Alongside, and now views as related, there was the lost in translation claim, in which a senior UN official from the region claimed that Weerawansa's call was one for Gandhian non violence.

   Suddenly the Spokesperson's Office reference to misquoting made more sense: if a senior UN official, who inacts with the Spokesperson's office, made the claim that Weerawansa's words were Gandhian, suddenly the later claim that he had been misquoted -- or mistranslated -- makes more sense. But it says much about the advice Ban is receiving.

   In 2009, more than one UN staff member was grabbed up by the government, amid claims of torture. Many more UN staff languished in the internment camps at Vavuniya, with the UN saying nothing about them until exposed. If Sudan grabbed UN staff, Ban and the UN would scream. This is why talk from Colombo about UN double standards is so ironic.

   We can add to this that a political arm of the Secretariat, not directly in Ban's office or even floor of the UN's North Lawn building, has told closed door meetings they were against the formation of the three person panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying it would reduce the UN's “leverage.” Leverage for what?

Protest of UN in Colombo, Gandhian Weerawansa not shown

On July 2, Inner City Press revisited the issue with UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: You’d said earlier in the week there was this idea, this quote by Wemal Weerawansa, that the UN House there should be surrounded and staff kept in until Mr. Ban cancels the panel and whatnot. You’d said that you were checking to see whether he was somehow misquoted. Were you able to determine whether this minister was misquoted? And can you explain how a minister can make, if he is not misquoted, make such a statement and you characterize it as an individual statement when the person is still a Government official?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the Government has assured us that these views did not reflect the policy of the Government. Certainly there have been also no crowds outside of the UN House, which is a relief. Beyond that, we have received some indications that an apology might be in order, and we’ll see whether there is any sort of clarification or apology coming from the Government. I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.

The next day, still no word on apology. One seems unlikely, as the Rajapaksa also let expire a July 1 deadline from the European Union on the GPS Plus trade concession. Now a similar status is under review in the U.S., in response to a petition from the AFL-CIO.

One question is how far China and Russia will in fact go for Sri Lanka. And the position of Japan. These are fears expressed by Ban administration insiders. Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Says No Visas, UN Says No Need to Visit or Talk to Witnesses

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- The government of Sri Lanka has said it will deny visas to members of the UN panel of experts to advise Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on alleged war crimes in the final stage of that country's civil war. Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky for Ban's response to being thus rebuffed. Video here, from Minute 19:42.

It's not a question of speaking to witness,” Nesirky said, emphasizing twice that it is “not an investigation, not an inquiry, not a probe.” The obvious question is, why not? More than a year after thousands of civilians were killed, the UN is only now convening three individuals to advise Ban on what he might do.

  Inner City Press is told that the panel will have staff, to be based in New York. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, the government is said to be setting up some protests to be held in front of the UN in Colombo. If Sudan were to do this, the UN would denounce it. But here?

UN's Ban & GL Peiris, visa for UN panel not shown

Russia has chimed in, as it did during the conflict, calling the slaughter entirely an “internal matter.” As one wag put it, “They should know.”

Footnotes: The "no visas" announcement was made by External Affairs minister GL Peiris, who twice rebuffed the Press while in the US lobbying against the UN panel. Then, Hillary Clinton stood by Peiris. And now?

  The Sri Lankan Mission to the UN put out the foreign ministry's statement, a day late and in an unwieldy format. The Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona is still apparently not back in New York. Sri Lanka has thumbed its nose at GSP Plus as well. What will happen with the IMF? Watch this site.

* * *
UN Sri Lanka Panel To Include Steven Ratner and Yasmin Sooka of S. Africa, Reconciliation or Accountability?

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Must Credit

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- On Sri Lanka war crimes, sources tell Inner City Press that the three names including not only former Indonesian attorney general Darusman but also American lawyer Steven Ratner, and South Africa's Yasmin Sooka, who served on that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who was proposed by Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom, also of South Africa.

 According to these well placed sources, and contrary to unsourced reports in the Colombo press, there will be no Austrian on the panel.

After his widely criticized "victory tour" to Sri Lanka last May, during which interned Tamil children were forced to sing for him in the Vuvuniya camp, surrounded by barbed wire, Ban has hounded by calls to follow through on his and Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement at the end of the trip.

On March 5, Ban said he would name a panel to advise him "without delay." Now, belated, he is slated to name the panel this week.

Sri Lanka's banner of UN Ban, with gun, Vavuniya camps

 Sri Lanka is lashing out in advance, even as their ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona chairs an international investigation panel about the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Can you say, hypocrisy? 

  Kohona has also been named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having provided assurances that surrendering LTTE leaders would be treated in accordance with international law -- before they were killed. Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar. 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

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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