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At UN, Council Belatedly Gets Sri Lanka Briefing, "No Politics," Holmes Was Told

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 27 -- As on Sri Lanka the Security Council began a meeting belatedly including a briefing by UN chief humanitarian John Holmes, the scope of what would be allowed and done had already been limited. "Holmes has been told what he can say and what he can't," a Council diplomat told Inner City Press. "No politics,  only civilians."  The stance of many Council members was summarized by Vietnam's Ambassador: "It's a legitimate government fighting a terrorist group," he said. The Ambassador of Sudan, which is not on the Council but is omnipresent in the run-up to the International Criminal Court's scheduled ruling on the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir on March 4, went further. "I tell Sri Lanka, this is how it started with Sudan, just a humanitarian briefing back in the days of Operation Life Line Sudan. And now our president is being indicted."

   Western-based non-governmental organization, which were mostly silent as 2000 civilians were killed since the beginning of the year, have belatedly gotten involved. Doctors without Border issued a report on civilians trapped in the conflict zone, hiding in bunkers without food or water, bombed when they venture out seeking escape.  Such testimony can be expected to be repeated by Holmes. But he has been told, according to Council sources, not to even say what Ban Kid-moon did on February 23, before he left to Africa, that political talks should be held.

UN's Ban and Austria's Thomas Mayr-Hartin, limitation on Sri Lanka briefing not shown

  The Sri Lanka portion of Friday's Council meeting will come third and last, after a speech by Greece's Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on behalf of the OSCE, on topics including Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (whose recognition of independence by Russia some north Sri Lanka Tamils can only dream about), and a presenation about peacebuilding, so sorely lacking in Sri Lanka.

  Close analysts say that the government, in its zeal to "finish off" the Tamil Tigers, has created greater antipathy in the Tamil community. This is what is meant by, "There is no military solution." But will Holmes even say that? Watch this space -- we will be "live blogging" from just outside the Council chamber at the stakeout.

Update of 10:16 a.m. -- On his way into the Council chamber, Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting stopped and told the Press the exact line used by Vietnam, that this is a conflict between a legitimate government and a terrorist organization. He went on, however, to say that international humanitarian law must be respected by both side. He described a "breakfast meeting" convened by Japan when its envoy to Sri Lanka Mr. Akashi was in New York, a meeting at which Sri Lanka's mission to the UN spoke. Inner City Press asked what the Council has heard from India. They were present at the Japanese breakfast, he replied, and then went into the Council.

Update of 10:29 a.m. -- As Dora Bakoyannis speaks in the Council, at the stakeout the coffee machine is ceaselessly clicking. A UN staff walks over and jokes, "Let's hope it's not a bomb." A security officer takes it seriously, and uses his walkie-talkie to call his supervisor, who unplugs the machine. The clicking stops. "It's not a bomb," he announces. He plugs the machine back in, and the clicks starts again.  In the chamber, France's Jean-Maurice Ripert is giving a speech about the OSCE and Georgia. Will he speak so publicly about Sri Lanka?

Update of 11:24 a.m. -- When Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis came to the stakeout, after she said OSCE must remain in South Ossetia -- she declined to comment on whether Russian military bases would be helpful -- Inner City Press asked a transition question, on Nagorno Karabakh, about which she said the Minsk process should come to some fruitition in 2009, and then, twice, about Sri Lanka. Ms. Bakoyannis ignored the question the first time, and when Inner City Press asked it again, she said she would not comment, but would have to inform herself better about it. "She better hurry up," is a phrase that was heard in response.

Update of 11:33 p.m. -- Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin came to the stakeout, Inner City Press asked him about OSCE's role in Kosovo (he responded about the "family" of UNMIK). Then he was asked what he thought of the upcoming briefing on Sri Lanka by John Holmes. Churkin called it a "one time" briefing, saying that now that the military conflict appears nearly over, there will be no need for any further Council briefing. Inner City Press asked, what if the level of civilian casualties continues or increases? Let's see what Mr. Holmes has to say, Churkin responded.  At 11:32 a.m., Holmes, with one aide, walked into the Council....

Update of 12:48 a.m. -- the briefing continues. A Council source emerged to say that Holmes did not address "political issues," they were not "in his remit." We will have more on this shortly.

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

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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