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On Sri Lanka, UN Won't Confirm its Own Reports or Call for Ceasefire

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 4 -- In Sri Lanka, civilians are trapped as the government moves in on the rebel Tamil Tigers. At UN headquarters on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked the Deputy Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, Marie Okabe, if Ban has called for a ceasefire. His position is clear, Ms. Okabe said. Since Inner City Press exclusively reported Ban met with the Sri Lankan president's senior advisor, a follow-up question was required: is Ban asking for a ceasefire, or just allowing it to run its course? I don't have anything more on that, Ms. Okabe said.

   Since Sri Lanka's foreign minister earlier in the day claimed that the UN had apologized for accusing it of using cluster bombs, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe if that was true. Ms. Okabe said, for the UN, that "some of the UN staff on the ground reported today that cluster munitions had been used close to their positions.  These reports have not been confirmed." Video here, from 20:14. Transcript here.

  So the UN recites but declines to confirm its own reports?

 The UN's contorted position on Sir Lanka stands in contrast to its statements about other conflicts.

UN flag in Sri Lanka, only play-acting, its own reports not shown

In Sudan, for example, when the government moves in on a rebel-held town, the UN loudly denounces it, tells the government to back away, and reports on every bomb that falls. In Sri Lanka, the government has been shelling rebel-held areas and the UN has spoken in convoluted ways, declining to answer direct questions if it is calling for a ceasefire, declining to confirm its own staff's reports about cluster bomb use.

  Is it okay or not for a government to attack rebels inside its borders, in ways that put civilians are risk? For the UN, the answer seems to turn on which governments and rebels are involved.  While it is to be expected that individual countries will have foreign policies that are not necessarily consistent, the UN should not have a foreign policy, certainly not one driven by particular powerful states. If the UN is for civilian protection, it should speak the same way in Sri Lanka and Sudan. If anything, since the international media and major powers put more of a spotlight on Sudan, the UN should do more in Sri Lanka. But it does not.

Footnote: we neglected to include one tidbit in our report on Team Ban's meeting with the Sri Lankan president's senior advisor (and brother). The brother of Vijay Nambiar, Ban's affable chief of staff, is reportedly Satish Nambiar who served, including as a consultant, in and to Sri Lanka. More on this to follow.

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

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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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