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Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa Says US Going Soft, State Dept Disagrees

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 2 -- After Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's September 24 speech to the UN General Assembly attacking the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into war crimes (while praising Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit in May 2009 right after the UN-dubbed "bloodbath on the beach"), on October 1 the country's Daily Mirror reported:

"Rajapaksa is reported to have told the Cabinet meeting that his discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry had made him realize that the US had softened its stance on Sri Lanka."

   But on October 2 Kerry's (and the US State Department's) spokesperson Jen Psaki said this is false. Psaki said she saw the story and

the only thing that was right was that the Secretary did speak with the Sri Lankan President on the margin of the UN General Assembly. He did so with the express purpose of conveying that US policy with regard to Sri Lanka has not changed, and it certainly has not softened. We would like our relationship with Sri Lanka to achieve its full potential. That will only happen if Sri Lanka builds enduing peace and prosperity for all of its diverse ethnic and religious communities. That's why the Secretary made clear to the President that Sri Lanka needed to take meaningful steps to act like a country that is no longer at war but instead is now building a future that includes all of its citizens.

  So much for Rajapaksa's spin.

  In his September 24 UNGA speech, Rajapaksa called Sri Lanka an "unfortunate victim of ill-conceived agendas of some in the Human Rights Council." He bragged about the "visit of UN Secretary General  to Sri Lanka, just a week after the conclusion of the conflict." (In fairness we are using the quote from the written statement; Rajapaksa actually called Ban "Secretary General TO Sri Lanka," perhaps a Freudian slip.)

 Rajapaksa bragged about heading the Commonwealth, but on the way into the UN on September 24, the Permanent Representative of a Commonwealth country told Inner City Press Sri Lanka heading the Commonwealth had been a mistake.

  In his conclusion, Rajapaksa used a quote from the Buddha; in the Sri Lanka (government) context it was hard not to think of the extremist BBS monks. One reader has tweeted that it's as unfair as blaming all Christians for Christian extremists; despite government links to BBS, we think it's worth including this position here.)

  Earlier on September 24 on 47th Street there was a protection of Rajapaksa's visit, tweeted photo here.

 Back on August, while the UN says it will be investigating Sri Lanka war crimes, and the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has said it will no allow the investigators in,  Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric what precedents or procedures the UN has for protecting witnesses, those giving information to this inquiry? Video here.

  Dujarric said he would look into precedents, and we'll look forward to that. But already, when Inner City Press and others raised concerns that the email submission procedures for the inquiry does not involve encryption, nothing has yet been done. It still should be.

Footnote: What the State Department spokesperson said on October 2 was in response to a question, we'll say it, from Reuters. As we've noted (and could further update) Reuters has its own history on Sri Lanka and even attacking independent media for investigative reporting about Sri Lankan diplomacy (or "buy-plomacy"). But unlike Reuters, at least at the UN, we note when we use an answer to another media's question. We'll have more on this.


 

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