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At UN, Sri Lankan Carnage Boiled Down to 9 Paragraph Press Statement, Starvation

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 13 -- In a compromise heavily dominated by China, the European Union's UK, Austria and France congratulated themselves Wednesday on the passage of a nine-paragraph “Press Statement” by the Security Council on Sri Lanka.

  While the government shells the civilians trapped in a dwindling area now smaller than New York's Central Park -- more like Tompkins Square Park, said one wag -- paragraphs two and three of the Statement condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

  Paragraph four expresses concern about “the continued use of high caliber weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians,” without directly saying who is responsible for the shelling. From paragraph nine, the word “political” in the phrase “find a long term political solution” was taken out.

  Inner City Press asked Council President Vitaly Churkin of Russia about this change. I am not discussing previous versions, Ambassador Churkin said. Video here.

   After UK Ambassador John Sawers emphasized that the press statement kept the Council unified, Inner City Press asked him why it didn't mention access to the conflict zone by journalists, particular the reporters from UK Channel 4 who were expelled by the government after broadcasting exposes of rape allegations in the camps for “Internally Displaced People.” Sawers said it was a good point, but another Council diplomat soon told Inner City Press that no delegation, so including the UK, had felt strongly enough about journalistic access to raise it as an element.

Russia's Vitaly Churkin, UK's Sawers in waiting at right

  Austria's Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting explained that there are underlying causes of the LTTE's fight, and that there is long term concern about how the government will run the IDP camps. Inner City Press asked why the EU hadn't pushed to put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda, if there is long term concern. We didn't have to, he replied, we got the press statement. But what will this press statement do?

At Wednesday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson about the UN's statement earlier in the week that food was getting into the conflict zone. Later in the day came this reply:

Subj: Your question on ICRC and Sri Lanka

From: unspokesperson [at]

To: Inner City Press

Sent: 5/13/2009 12:40:26 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Earlier today, an ICRC-flagged ship carrying 25 metric tonnes of food turned back due to fighting in the conflict zone, after the ship was also unable to reach its destination yesterday. An additional 500-tonne shipment of mixed food commodities is ready for departure from Trincomalee this evening. Another shipment of 25 tonnes of food is planned for tomorrow.

We'll see.

  The earlier prediction:

On Sri Lanka, Belated EU and Obama Moves, China Pushes Back, Press Statement Predicted

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 13 -- With the last hospital in the so-called Safe Zone in Sri Lanka having been bombed by the government, it emerged Wednesday at midday that the European Union members of the UN Security Council are belatedly seeking formal Council action. French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told the Press that a draft Presidential Statement had been tabled, which would “of course” condemn the Tamil Tigers, but also call on the government to stop bombing, and support Secretary General Ban Ki-moon going to Sri Lanka “as soon as possible.”

   Inner City Press asked if France and the EU are seeking to put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda via a procedural vote.. Ripert replied that he is “not interested in procedure.” But the lead political advisor of a Permanent Five member opposed to Sri Lanka being on the agenda told Inner City Press that it is his country's position that with it still off the agenda, no meeting in the Chamber is possible, and therefore no Presidential Statement can be adopted. His country is interested in procedure, even if Ripert is not.

  Meanwhile, also belatedly, Obama will speak on Sri Lanka this afternoon, and in wake of Time Magazine writing that he is failing the Sri Lanka test.

At UN, the EU is all fired up about Sri Lanka

   To put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda would require nine affirmative votes. Four members are known to be adamantly opposed to Sri Lanka being addressed in the Council: China, Russia, Viet Nam and Libya (which is moving to give Sri Lanka a $500 million loan while its $1.9 billion loan application remains delayed at the International Monetary Fund). Turkey -- due to its PKK issues, it predicted to abstain.

   The Ugandan Ambassador on Tuesday night told Inner City Press his country will not oppose including Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda. Burkina Faso is thought likely to go along with the West, as it did on Zimbabwe. Would Japan, some are asking, give the civilians the kiss of death by abstaining?

   If Sri Lanka remains not on the Council's agenda, a mere press statement is predicted for later today at the UN. Watch this space.

Update of 3:39 p.m. -- Japan's Ambassador Takasu came out of the Council, Inner City Press asked him, "Would Japan vote in favor of putting Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda?" Takasu to his credit stopped to answer, but gesturing back at the Council said, "That is not what is being discussed." What's not what was being asked...

Update of 3:45 p.m. -- while the Council members have not yet reached the Sri Lanka discussion -- they are talking about the UN's Gaza report -- well placed Council sources tell Inner City Press that the gambit is to put Sri Lanka under the pre-existing Council agenda item “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.” Talk about a one-off...

Update of 4:25 p.m. -- the Council took a break for “elements” about Sri Lanka to be typed up, whether to be incorporated into Presidential Statement or a mere press statement. Inner City Press asked Vitaly Churkin of Russia, this month's Council president, “What about Sri Lanka?” “We're discussing that,” he said. He spoke only about Gaza, about which Inner City Press will publish a story later.

Update of 5:15 p.m. -- One Council Permanent Representative has emerged and told the Press, it will be only a press statement. The Chinese did the fight and the others backed down.

 On Thursday May 7, Inner City Press asked Associate UUN Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about this invitation that’s been made to the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka. First I wanted to ask if on Monday when he met with the Ambassador of Japan, whether he was briefed on a visit by Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi to Sri Lanka and was urged by Japan that he should take this visit. And I also wanted to know whether he would be in New York 11 May for the Middle East debate, and 15 May to meet with the Chinese diplomats, that in fact this is one reason that he is considering not going, as I have been told by senior Secretariat staff.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we don’t announce the trips of the Secretary-General until they are close to occurring. And in that regard, I don’t have anything to announce about a trip to Sri Lanka at this stage. At the same time, as Michèle told you yesterday, and is still true for today, if the Secretary-General believes that visiting Sri Lanka can have an impact in terms of saving lives there, he will certainly try to go. So he is considering that. But part of what he is studying is what the impact of a potential trip would be.

Inner City Press: But if he had that belief, that would be without regard to attending the 11 May Middle East thing or the 15 May meeting with the Chinese diplomats? I am told that’s a major factor in his planning.

Associate Spokesperson: Scheduling is a separate issue. What we’re talking about is the decision of whether or not to go. And certainly if he can make a difference and can save civilian lives, which is what his priority has been on this case, then he will go. At present, we don’t have anything to announce at all in this regard, though.

Question: Just one last one on that. I wanted to know, can you at least confirm that he met with Ambassador Takasu on Monday in his office inside the Security Council? Can you give a read-out of that meeting and say why it wasn’t on his public schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: I can confirm that he met with the Permanent Representative of Japan. He did that, yes. It was in his office in the Security Council. We don’t provide readouts of meetings with ambassadors.

Question: And why wasn’t it on the schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: It came up all of a sudden when he had a bit of free time in between other appointments on a fairly hectic day.

  While Ban Ki-moon is working on his issues as a trip to Manama, Bahrain, after a news-less trip to Malta, the killing of civilians accelerates in Sri Lanka. On Friday May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:

Inner City Press: On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking? In the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.

   What Ban said did not involve calling for a cease-fire, did not respond to the invitation to visit Sri Lanka, or the accelerating rate of civilians death over the weekend, during which no statement issued about Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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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