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UN Quiet About Being Gagged, from Sri Lanka to Burma, Does Silence Equal Consent?

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 10 -- Answers at the UN are sometimes given the same day, sometimes incomplete. Sometimes it is falsely promised that an answer-giver will appear. On Wednesday the UN's envoy to Haiti briefed the Security Council and, it was said, would later speak to the press. But as reporters waited until 2 p.m., he never showed up. At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked 

Inner City Press: On this visit by Louise Arbour to Sri Lanka, there's now a report of Tamil prisoners on hunger strike saying that they should be visited, and there was this earlier report that she couldn't visit the whole island.  Is she able to visit the whole island?

Spokesperson: We don't have an update yet but we are following the issue.  We'll let you know.

[The correspondent was later informed that a large part of Ms. Arbour's visit would be spent in Colombo, but that she would also be conducting a field visit.]

            The answer sent to this correspondent was that "Arbour will meet with members of the Tamil movement, including Members of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance. A large part of her visit will be spent in Colombo, but she will also be conducting a field visit." The BBC Tamil service was told that Ms. Arbour

"will not be allowed by the government to meet with Tamil Tiger representatives when she travels to the north of the country. A UN spokesman told the BBC Tamil service that Ms Arbour would travel to the northern Jaffna peninsula later this week. 'I'm not going to be too specific about her agenda,' the spokesman said. Asked if she would traveling to meet Tamil Tiger leaders in their northern stronghold of Kilinochchi, he said: 'No she won't be.'"

            The question remains, why not? And what of the hunger-striking prisoners?

High Commissioner in Burundi, no similar visits in Sri Lanka

Another Q&A from Wednesday:

Inner City Press: In this meeting with Chuck Hagel, this is for this afternoon, by the Secretary-General?  Do you know what the topic is?

Spokesperson: No, I don't have that.  We can get you a readout this afternoon.

[The correspondent was later informed that the two had discussed issues of common interest to the United Nations and United States, including the Middle East, Iraq and climate change.]

            Could it be that Burma did not arise? Or that the Secretariat does not want to talk about Burma? A correspondent asked:

Question: Is there a fear that by shuttling between Aung San Suu Kyi and General Shwe is, in fact, helping to preserve General Shwe, General Shwe's hold over Burma?

Spokesperson: I don't know if there was such a fear...

            Now you know. The Sidney Morning Herald quoted Surinder Karkar

"among the Burmese who organized civilian protection circles that ringed monks as they marched through the streets of Rangoon for eight days last month, that 'Nothing was achieved Whatever the regime told him, he did. While he was there we were being shot, we were being detained. After he left there was more rounding up of people.' He called on Dr Gambari to publicly release what the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had said to him during two meetings in Burma."

            And again, the UN has apparently not requested, and certainly has not obtained, any correction to this report:

UN staff were thrown into panic over the weekend after Burmese police and diplomats entered its offices in Rangoon and demanded hard drives from its computers. The discs contain information that could help the dictatorship to identify key members of the opposition movement, many of whom have gone underground. UN staff spent much of the weekend deleting information.

  Meanwhile, the Security Council consulted Wednesday afternoon on their draft Presidential Statement, whether to deplore or condemn, whether to ask both sides for restraint. The U.S. spokesman quoted an Ambassador he left unnamed as having asked, How can you be restrained if you are in prison? The Council is slated to continue on Thursday, aiming to get something done, before the UN-wide holiday on Friday. Developing.

* * *

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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