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UN's Ban to Call Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa about Fonseka's Arrest, Nambiar Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 9, updated -- A day after his spokesman dodged questions about Sri Lanka's arrest of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, on Tuesday afternoon UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "intends to speak" with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky announced the scheduled telephone call in response to a follow up question by Inner City Press. Video here, from Minute 7:36. Nesirky had a prepared statement, "urging the authorities to follow due process of law" and "provide all necessary protections" in the run up to "Parliamentary elections."

  Inner City Press had asked on February 8 if the Rajapaksa administration's violent arrest of Fonseka was the type of "provocative act" which Ban had counseled against. Nesirky had declined to apply Ban's general statement to the facts on the ground.

  On February 9, Inner City Press contrasted the Rajapaksas' dissolving of parliament and calling for snap elections with their arrest of their main opponent. Could the coming elections be considered free and fair?

UN's Ban, pictured with Basil Rajapaksa, arrests and call not shown

  Previously Ban declined a request at the UN provide safeguards of fairness to the presidential round of elections, which Fonseka has challenged as riddled with fraud. After that vote, Ban even expressed "relief" at how well it had done.

  Now that journalists have been harrassed, censored and prosecuted and the main opponent arrested, might Ban and the UN at least attempt to provide some type of safeguards for the second, Parliamentary round?

  And since Ban has said he is considering appointing a panel on investigating Sri Lanka war crimes, and presidential brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has since rejected any UN investigation, will Ban raise then announce the panel, which UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston and others have called for? Watch this site.

Footnote: Also on the war crimes front, Sri Lanka'a Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona has now denied that the UN's Vijay Nambiar was even in Sri Lanka at the time LTTE leaders were executed while surrendering with white flags.

 Inner City Press, which has asked the question publicly without public answer, understands that the UN is being asked again for the specifics of Mr. Nambiar's involvement, whether he was given and conveyed assurances of safety and legal compliance from the Rajapaksas which were then violated.

  On February 9, Inner City Press asked as it had on February 8 about attempts by Kohona and Sri Lanka's foreign minister to reach Mr. Ban to cancel a press conference on war crimes by UN Special Rapporteur Alston, which request was referred to Nambiar. The day after he said he would find out, Neskiry on Tuesday had no answer. Video here, from Minute 9:50. He called it a small thing -- as Inner City Press had, in an abundance of caution -- but again said he would "look into it." We'll see.

Update of 5:55 pm, Feb. 9 -- Inner City Press inquired and was told that Ban Ki-moon has yet to make his call to President Rajapasa. It will be quite late tonight, Inner City Press was told. What about getting a read-out, especially in light of talk the UN in New York will be closed on February 10 for snow? The read-out will have to be approved, was the response. We will be here: watch this site.

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As Sri Lanka Arrests Fonseca, Censors War Crimes and Calls Nambiar, UN Quiet

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 8 -- Even after the Rajapaksa administration in Sri Lanka confirmed arresting its top electoral rival Sarath Fonseca, at the UN in New York Secretary General Ban Ki-moon through his spokesman had nothing directly to say about it.

  Inner City Press asked about the arrest, about statements by presidential brother and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that "there will be no UN investigation, and about who is handling Sri Lanka for Mr. Ban. Video here, from Minute 44:04.

Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said the UN is "aware of news reports" of the arrest but cannot confirm them. Perhaps the government's confirmation of the arrest didn't reach the UN.

Nesirky reiterated a previous canned statement, that Ban calls on "all parties and their supporters" to "avoid provocative acts" including in "post electoral stages."

   Inner City Press asked if the arrest of the main opposition candidate, for having spoken publically about war crimes -- specifically by the president's brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa -- would constitute a provocative act, in Ban's view. Video here, from Minute 46:23.

  "You've heard what I've said," Nesirky responded. He has also said that Ban is considering making appointments to lead to an independent investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

  Last week, in another context, Ban said he calls for credible domestic investigations or if not, by implication, outside international investigation as was done in Guinea. But with Gotabaya Rajapaksa rejecting any investigation, what is Ban waiting for, if he meant what he and his spokesman have been saying?

Nesirky also said he was unaware of a telephone call from Sri Lanka's foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama, asking to speak to Mr. Ban to cancel the press conference by UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Philip Alston.

(Inner City Press wrote about the call on February 4, here. As an aside, we note that Children and Armed Conflict UN envoy Patrick Cammaert has not help the expected press conference open his return from Sri Lanka in December, until now.)

  The call was re-routed to Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, about whose objectivity many in the Tamil diaspora, and in Sri Lanka, have raised questions, including but not only in light of Nambiar's brother Satish's op-ed praising the conduct of the military assault on northern Sri Lanka. There are more subtle questions about the stated and unstated policies of India and other regional powers.

  Nesirky said that the UN's Department of Political Affairs "has people looking closely at Sri Lanka," as does the "S-G's team." But are they not aware of the perception about Mr. Nambiar's objectivity? Or do they just not care?

UN's Ban, Lanka foreign minister and military, arrests and calls not shown

  This is not just a matter of keeping up with the news from Sri Lanka: when Ban Ki-moon was picketed and protested in midtown Manhattan while receiving a humanitarian award, placards spoke directly to this Nambiar(s) question. Ban skirted the protesters and their signs on the way in and out of the ceremony. But mightn't these "looking closely" staffers have taken a look?

About this referred call, Nesirky said, "I can find out." We'll have more on this. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: In Sri Lanka, the former chief opposition candidate, [Sarath] Fonseka, has now been arrested by the Government. The Defence Minister has said, he has been quoted as saying, there will be no UN investigation; there is no need for an investigation of the events earlier in the year in the country. And just finally, it’s also said that the Foreign Minister tried to reach the Secretary-General and it’s reported in the Sri Lankan press that he tried to reach the Secretary-General and was told to speak to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, to try to cancel actually the press conference by [Philip] Alston that was held in this room about a month ago. I’m wondering, just from the last bit, whether Mr. Nambiar is, is either formally or sort of de facto, being put in charge of Sri Lanka policy for the Secretariat. And I am also wondering whether there is any response to the opposition candidate being arrested given all the things that the Secretary-General said in the run-up to the election?

Spokesperson Nesirky: On the second part of your question, to do with the chain of command or the conduit for information, as you well know, DPA, the Department of Political Affairs, has people who look very closely as Sri Lanka and of course, within the Secretary-General’s immediate team, there are also people looking very closely at Sri Lanka. I’m really not aware of the details of this phone call that you refer to. I can find out about that.

On the reported arrest; you know, of course we’re aware of the news reports, just the same as you are. And we’re looking at this closely. As we’ve said before, the peaceful conduct of the first post-conflict national election and its aftermath is of the highest importance for long-term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. And the Secretary-General has repeatedly appealed to all parties in Sri Lanka and their supporters to show restraint and to adhere to electoral laws and avoid provocative acts, not only in the election period, but also in the post-election stages. And the Secretary-General reinforces these concerns that he has already expressed.

Inner City Press: Is it fair to say, because the Government has already confirmed the arrest and said what he will be tried for, which is speaking to the press about war crimes, essentially. So, I’m wondering, I heard all of the various parts where you said -- would the arrest of an opposition figure for having spoken about possible war crimes, go against, breach what the Secretary-General has been calling for there?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, you heard what I said, Matthew, and I don’t have anything else to add. We’re aware of the news reports and we’re looking at it very closely.

  We'll see.
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 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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