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Sri Lanka's Kohona Denies Assuring UN's Nambiar Rebels Would Not Be Executed, Qorvis told Peiris to Leave NPC

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 -- Before surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders were shot to death last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar says he was assured they would be treated like normal prisoners of war by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, currently Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN.

  On May 28, Mr. Kohona told Inner City Press that he never provided such assurance. Since this differs from what Vijay Nambiar told Al Jazeera -- see Al Jazeera transcript below -- Inner City Press inquired further.

   Kohona said that he spoke to Nambiar "the day after" -- presumably, the day after Nambiar conveyed the two Rajapaksas' assurances to the LTTE leaders, leading to their surrender and death.

  "I ask you to report my denial," Kohona told Inner City Press. "And say that the other two, you did not have the opportunity to ask."

 As Inner City Press pointed out to him, the questions might well have been put to the Rajapaksas' Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris, but Kohona denied or ignored Inner City Press' request to interview Peiris.

   While down in Washington DC, Peiris had been scheduled to take questions at the National Press Club but walked out before answering a single question. A witness says that just prior to the event, Peiris was audibly told by his and the Rajapaksas' public relations advisors at Qorvis that Peiris might face some "unfair" questions." So Peiris immediately left.

 But Peiris should answer detailed questions, if he is the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs. That is why Inner City Press, hearing of the Sri Lankan Mission's invitation to journalists who have never written about the conflict to wine and dine with Peiris, asked instead to interview him.

  "Maybe if you changed your attitude," Kohona said. "Now that you want me out... maybe I'm going to have to change my approach."

UN's Ban and Kohona, assurances and allegations denied, outside inquiry opposed

  Already, Kohona's deputy is repetitively sending to Inner City Press letters meant to discourage questioning, right before the UN noon briefings. On May 28, Inner City Press asked a number of Ban Ki-moon / Sri Lanka / panel and Nambiar related questions, and received at least some answers on the former, but no answers to the Nambiar questions. Watch this site.

Al Jazeera transcript:

Q: ...role you played in negotiations for the surrender of many of the Tamil leaders at the time. What was agreed?

Mr. Nambiar: As you know both in April and May of last year the UN had made strenuous efforts in order to try and see that the civilian population would be safeguarded from some of the difficulties, the tragedies of the conflict that was taking place. Now, when I went in May during my second visit, the extent to which I was involved in this was a telephone conversation, a telephone message I got from a Sunday Times correspondent through the UK Foreign Office and through the UN headquarters where I was asked to check with the Sri Lankan authorities regarding the possible protection could be given to two of the Tamil leaders... When I received this call, I said that I will make an effort and contact the government authorities, which I did, the same day that is I think it's the 17 and 18 of May. I went and I spoke to the foreign secretary at that time, Mr. Palitha Kohona, the defense secretary, and subsequently I spoke to the president also. So, I raise this question …the Sunday Times correspondent talked about their wanting to surrender…they may want to do it to a third party…afraid for their lives…so I raised this with them and suggested …the response from them was that they would be treated likes normal prisoners of war, if they raised the white flag they would be allowed to surrender. Now that is the extent to which I was involved.

Q: This is what President of Sri Lanka told you..

Nambiar: Yes…the president also in response to my statement, he said the same thing, as did the foreign secretary and the Defense Secretary.

Q: They specifically said they would treat them…

Nambiar They just made…they just responded in the manner, they would be treated like ordinary prisoners of war.

To be continued - watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Did Not Recuse Nambiar, UK Supports Ban Panel, Peiris Waits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 -- As questions mount about the role in crimes of war in Sri Lanka of both Vijay Nambiar, the chef de cabinet of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Sri Lankan diplomat Palitha Kohona, the UN on Wednesday said that in setting up the long promised UN group of experts, "it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet. And it’s not something that involves directly -- the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself."

But when Inner City Press earlier asked what steps had been taken toward actually setting up the group of experts that Ban announced back on March 5, the answer was a meeting between Nambiar and Kohona. Asked if there are any UN provision for recusal from setting up a panel to investigate deadly incidents by those involved or witness to the events, the UN spokesman did not describe any safeguards.

Meanwhile, the UK Mission has provided the following read out that Inner City Press requested:

I asked the Ambassador for some feedback on his meeting with the Secretary-General regarding the issue of Sri Lanka which you had mentioned to him when you saw him earlier in the week.

He did raise the issue of Sri Lanka in his discussion with the Secretary General and assured him that the UK Government fully supported his proposals for an accountability process to look into allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law and this included the proposed panel of experts.

   Inner City Press had asked Ambassador Lyall Grant if there was any change in position on Sri Lanka as power shifted from Gordon Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Cameron, Clegg and Hague. Miliband, now running to replaced Gordon Brown as head of the Labour Party, has Tweeted that the new government should act on the International Crisis Group report. We'll see.

  Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris continues his war crimes defense tour, now in Washington waiting to meet with Hillary Clinton on Friday. Since the Sri Lankan Mission's read out of his meeting with Ban cited US Ambassador Susan Rice as supporting the Rajapaksas' mechanism over any outside one, what Hillary Clinton will say is a matter of some interest.

UK's Lyall Grant and US' Susan Rice, UN Sri Lanka panel positions not shown
 From the UN's May 26 transcript, video here from Minute 12:40

Inner City Press: yesterday you repeatedly said to me, “check, listen to Al Jazeera” on the question I was asking about what the Secretary-General — what, you know, what he rejected and what Mr. Nambiar, that the allegation that he said he totally rejected. So, I did, I did, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve listened to what Mr. Nambiar said. And I have to say it still gives rise to questions. There are two, and I’ll just, there are two that really come to mind. He acknowledges that he was contacted, he says through UN Headquarters by a Sunday Times correspondent, through the UK Foreign Office and UN Headquarters of the desire to surrender of these LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders. And he says he spoke with the President, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, who is now the ambassador here, and that they said that they would be treated like normal war criminals. I mean, excuse me, they will be treated like normal prisoners of war – I want to be clear on that. He doesn’t say how this was conveyed back to the people who surrendered. He doesn’t say, and I think it would be important to know who in the UN Headquarters was part of this chain of communication and it’s unclear to me why, given both Mr. Nambiar and Mr. Kohona were the ones discussing the accountability panel that Ban Ki-moon is setting up if they, at least, you know, again without casting aspersion on them, there are factual questions about a possible problem, that Philip Alston is looking into. So, how is it not a conflict of interest to have Mr. Nambiar or Mr. Kohona being the ones to discuss the composition in terms of reference of a panel that is dealing with exactly the incident in which they were involved by Nambiar’s own statement to Al Jazeera? Sorry.

Spokesperson: What do you mean, “sorry”?

Inner City Press: No I’m sorry to put those all together; I just wanted it sort of a package question.

Spokesperson: It’s okay, it’s okay. Firstly, there are a lot of very specific questions that I do not have the answer to. So I can seek those to the best of my ability and the ability of my colleagues. The second is that the panel of experts that’s being put together, this is not simply in the purview of the Chef de Cabinet. Of course, there are other people involved in this, and not least the Secretary-General because it is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts. So it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet. And it’s not something that involves directly — the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself. This is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts.

Inner City Press: Are there any provisions for sort of recusal? In the case of, sort of, at any type of UN inquiry, if — and again, I’m trying to be very careful here, I am not trying to say that — I am just saying that this is an incident that would fall within the purview even of the lessons learned in the reconciliation commission of Sri Lanka, this incident that Alston has asked about in which prisoners who surrendered with white flags ended up dead. If, as Mr. Nambiar — I had never heard of Mr. Kohona being involved and giving the assurances — but if he is, it just seems that there should be some, you see, this is the type of thing that, for example, [Luis Moreno] Ocampo [Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] has criticized Sudan for — allowing those accused of crimes to be involved in Sudan’s own inquiry. He said that’s laughable. But it seems here, and I don’t want to be, it’s a, there obviously, it’s apples and oranges, but just in terms of involvement in the incident to be looked at, and involvement in setting up the inquiry to do it, I just wonder if you are… comfortable…

Spokesperson: As I’ve said, it’s not as if this is being somehow done in isolation. There are other people involved within the United Nations to establish that panel of experts. But the other questions, I’ve heard them and we’ll see what we can find out.

Watch this site.

* * *

On Murders after Surrender, UN's Nambiar Muses on Crossfire, Speaking With Kohona

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- Beyond the allegations of the UN being complicit in war crimes in Sri Lanka, made by the International Crisis Group, there is an additional question about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar role in convincing Tamil Tiger leaders to surrender, which led to their summary execution.

  Mr. Nambiar's belated defense is that they may have been killed in crossfire or by the Tamil Tigers. He says he was given assurances of "normal" treatment by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaka and Palitha Kohona -- to whom Mr. Nambiar continues to communicate on the very topic and composition of the group of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. This is a total conflict of interest.

  On May 24, Ban Ki-moon reacted "angrily" when Inner City Press asked about this and three ICG allegations, saying, "I totally reject all that kind of allegations." Video here, from Minute 38:07.

  Two minutes later, in response to a second question from Inner City Press about the ICG report, Mr. Ban said, "I rejected it? I don't know I ever said I reject it." Video here, from Minute 40:07.

  On May 25, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban was rejecting the allegation that went beyond the ICG report: the question about his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. So Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Philip Alston has said that a number of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders who were, came out to surrender after having spoken with Vijay Nambiar, the Chief of Staff, were in fact — he believes, Alston believes — summarily executed by the Sri Lankan Government. So the question is... what was Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar’s role in encouraging them to come out?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Chef de Cabinet has talked about this publicly and made clear that this was, that he had no direct contact with the people who were being asked to surrender. He had no direct contact with them. He spoke to the Sri Lankan leaders and was conveying a message that was relayed to him not by someone from the Tamil community. I will be able to give you the exact ins and outs if you need it, but he has spoken publicly about it.

Inner City Press: I really try to cover it very closely. I’m not, I’m not…

Spokesperson: Yes, yes he has. He did so quite recently in an interview with Al Jazeera.

  Thereafter, Nesirky declined to summarize what Nambiar had said, or to make Nambiar available for questions. He said, "Ask Al Jazeera." So Inner City Press did.


UN's Ban and a pensive Nambiar, transcription now shown

 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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