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As Sawers Becomes Top UK Spy, New Light on Secrecy, Sri Lanka and Sudan Strategy

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 17 -- After representing the United Kingdom at the UN and its Security Council, John Sawers has been tapped to head the UK's intelligence agency MI6. It triggers a selective review of his time at the UN, perhaps more critical than the BBC's "Sawers Can Dance" piece.

  Perhaps to his credit, Sawers was recently called "an amateur diplomat" by his Sudanese counterpart. The charge can after Sawers was quote that the Council bypassed Sudan during its recent trip across Africa, in order to avoid meeting with its indicted war criminal president Omar al-Bashir. "The UK and Sawers have blood on their hands," Sudan's Ambassador replied. Then came the promotion.

   Just before the announcement, in an on the record sit-down with the UN press corps, Inner City Press asked him to assess his and the Security Council's performance on Sri Lanka, where tens of thousands have been killed this year. Sawers said that the votes had been there to put Sri Lanka on the Council's formal agenda, but that he'd thought the unity of the Council more important.

   Therefore, after a few informal meetings without outcome in the UN basement, Sri Lanka is not on the Council's agenda, as internment camps continue to grow and critical voices are denied visas or deported. Was Sawers' the right judgment? Apparently this UK government thinks yes. And if intelligence and "anti-terrorism" are the priorities, the choice seems predetermined.

John Sawers at stakeout, Sri Lanka strategy and dance moves not shown

   Under Sawers, the UK mission to the UN displayed, at least in the view of this reporter, a bent for secrecy. Most Wednesday mornings, Sawers would brief select journalists who cover the UN. It was called a background briefing, but from the stories that would be written, it was obvious who had spoken. Once what Sawers said on background over breakfast differed notably from what he had told Inner City Press on the record at the stakeout.

   After reflection, Inner City Press wrote story noting this one incongruous aspect of Sawers' presentations, leaving others out. (Inner City Press attends other countries' briefings, applying this same standard without incident.)  But Sawers then-spokesman responded that Inner City Press had no right to even mention the breakfast briefings, and grilled the participants on who had told Inner City Press what had been said. He tried to drive a wedge, and all to protect what: the right of a powerful country to anonymously snark at the smaller and less powerful? Call it intelligence.

   That Sawers was aiming for higher postings seemed clear, for example when during the Council's visit to a refugee camp in Darfur, Sawers left the other Ambassadors sweltering off camera in a meeting with camp elders, and set off alone with the press to meet and greet the IDPs. Some other Ambassadors grumbled. But as the early bird gets the worm, the intrepid Ambassador leaves many of his colleagues behind.

    Sawers was always attentive during the visits to the UN of Gordon Brown, David Miliband and even Mark Malloch Brown. To his credit, Sawers in less formal settings was usually gracious, and often funny. At the farewell party for his next spokesman, Michael Hoare, Sawers joked about among other things Hoare's fascination with the James Bond films and dressing in tuxedos.

  Such events were nearly always held in the Park Avenue digs of the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative, then Karen Pierce. Perhaps Sawers' place was filled with intelligence equipment. Or might it have been a practice dance floor?

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As Sri Lanka Cancels Its Self-Investigation, Ghoulish IDP Services for Fee, Where's UN?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 16 -- The Sri Lankan government has canceled it own investigation of crimes and abuse during its conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, including of the murder of 17 workers of the non-government organization Action Contre la Faim. The commission of inquiry of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was supposed to get to the bottom of 15 other cases as well. But despite the accumulation of yet more accusations of abuse, including by the Army, the commission was allowed to expire.

   The UN's top humanitarian John Holmes has been asked and has spoken about the investigation of the ACF killings. Now that the investigation is itself being killed off by the government, Inner City Press directed a request for comment to the e-mail addresses of Mr. Holmes and his spokeswoman on Tuesday morning. It was reiterated with an additional request for response and action on a ghoulish ad, below, offering services related to those interned. By close of business, no response at all had been received. One will continue to be sought.

We note that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was quoted calling for Sri Lanka to investigate itself. Now that Sri Lanka has ended the investigative commission that it had, what is Ban Ki-moon saying?

UN's Holmes questioned on way to Sri Lanka, comment on ACF and ad not shown

One UN agency which has provided a response, a day after questions were asked, is UNICEF. Citing a June 5 OCHA report that "a total of 217 child surrendees have been identified and registered in IDP camps in Vavuniya. 58 of them were transferred to Ambepussa rehabilitation center," Inner City Press asked, "Is UNICEF aware of any other locations where surrendees or suspected LTTE supporters have been taken?" UNICEF responded:

"There are other centres for adults. These include Nellukulam Technical College, Gamani Maha Vidalayam, Rambikulam Girl College, Pampamadul Campus Girls Hostel, Coop Training College, Poonthotam School, Vavuniya Tamil MV and Omanthai Maha Vidiyalam. UNICEF notified relevant authorities on the children in Nellukulam and is presently working with Government for their transfer to a child rehabilitation center, and to ensure that no other children have been placed in these locations."

   Inner City Press has also asked for OCHA's response and action on an ad circulating worldwide on the Internet offering insider knowledge of where IDPs are locked up for a fee of $25 dollars. The ad says

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE (IDP) SERVICES Do you have any of your family persons Internally Displaced (IDP) pre/during/after the war in Sri Lanka?Are they displaced? Do you want to find out where they are? OR Some Information We try to find out IDPs: whose-who? In direct contact / communicate with the law enforcement authorities. Please inform us the full details. Do you have any of your family lands/houses/ or any immovable property belong to you or your family in the war zone / catchment's area/s? We try to search and assist you in finding those assets. Recently it was announced that the government was taking control over all the lands in the war zone vicinities. If any one has/had a property with the legal ownership, we should be able to assist you or find reliable information provided you give us reliable details....

All these work what we do are with the government officers and law authorities namely forces/security personal, ministries, our personal contacts, SMS, Telephone calls, lawyer's fees etc., involves travel and stay in the North or East (permit areas). So the expenses incur on case by case basis. Do you want to build a monument for your loved ones'? If you want to organize a thanks giving mass for lost family friends/relatives or another person of any race, or build a monument. Please let us have the details. ...Contact us for professional services. Registration fee: USD 25.00 first come first served basis. Registration please send your family details for registration. Type on a ward document and send. Indicate the service you need and will communicate the details with you. Please forward this email to those who need these services, if you are not interested in. L. Jude Perera Consultant IDP Services

   What's sad is that people are so desparate that ads such as this are viewed as a good business model. As simply one response, to the issue of monument or memorial service, it's said that many Tamils are afraid even to grieve for family members killed, for fear of being profiled as separatism supporters. What is the UN doing about any of this? We'll have more on this.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, Norway Worried by Camps, WHO by Doctors, Bill Clinton on Tsunami

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- As the UN brags about it role in building more and more permanent shelters in Sri Lanka's internment camps for Tamil, on Monday Inner City Press asked Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Garh Stoere if his country is assisting with the camps. "Mostly humanitarian," he said. "We don't get access as a country to the camps, we support the ICRC and UN agencies... it's an uphill battle."

   Inner City Press asked about the use of funds to lock up Sri Lankan citizens for essentially political screening. "It's a great dilemma," said Jonas Garh Stoere. "The war is over, but there are almost 300,000 people in camps. If they are not quickly resettled, normalized, our past experience shows us that temporary camps can become permanent. That should not happen here."

   But the UN in New York seems to believe it is best not to criticize the Rajapaksa government, and to downplay problems with the camps.  In that context, the World Health Organization's Margaret Chan has gotten involved in pleading with Sri Lanka's government the case of the doctors were remained in the "No Fire" Zone offering treatment and casualty figures, it emerged Monday at the UN.

  Still, the Rajapaksa administration says that the doctors, detained since last month, will be put on trial. Doctor Chan said told Inner City Press that "the UN's position is very clear. Doctors working in the humanitarian space should maintain neutrality, do their work and be protected. And I, we have been following up with the regional office on this issue." Video here, from Minute 7:46.

UN's Ban and Norway's
Jonas Garh Stoere, one concerned by camps, the other proud of them?

   Ban Ki-moon added,

"I have raised this issue with the Foreign Minister and President, and also in the presence of many Cabinet ministers. So this has been quite strongly raised by me. They assured me that they would be taken care of properly and they will look into this matter. I am closely following up; as you know, I have sent a letter to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa last week, urging him to implement all the commitments he made during my visit, and which we have agreed to implement."

   Mr. Ban, along with Bill Clinton, will be receiving a humanitarian award Wednesday in New York. They appeared Monday at a press conference about Clinton's new Haiti mandate. Inner City Press asked about Sri Lankan soldiers repatriated from Haiti charged with sexual abuse, a question that Clinton declined to answer. Video here, from Minute 29:12.

  Clinton twice mentioned his work after the tsunami, also for the UN. Inner City Press has interviewed Sri Lankan NGOs who worked with Eric Schwartz and others in Clinton's office, including in connection with Clinton's visit to Trincomolee and Tamil NGOs there.

  Would Sri Lanka's government bar Bill Clinton as it recently did Canadian MP Bob Rae? A UN under secretary general on Monday praised Rae to Inner City Press, but then asked that their name not be used. The UN declined comment when asked about the stripping of Rae's visa. Ban says he is closely monitoring and closely following up on all this. We'll see.

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 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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