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On Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Says "Never Again" to Call for Ceasefire or Suspension

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 7 -- With the situation for civilians trapped between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers growing more dire by the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on April 7 was asked if he is calling for a ceasefire. Mr. Ban's 127-word answer, while describing two phone calls to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, did not use the word ceasefire, or even Ban's previous phrases, a suspension of fighting or humanitarian pause.

   Inner City Press noted, both in Monday's UN noon briefing and later to Mr. Ban himself, that "it is unclear whether you are asking actually for a ceasefire."  In response, Ban expressed "hope that the Sri Lankan Government takes all necessary measures so that these civilians can move freely, without any danger, without threat, to the safety zone."  Video here, from Minute 13.

  By the UN's repeated admission, dozens are being killed each day. (Click here for the UN casualty estimate leaked to Inner City Press, and here for video of the UN's response.) Senior UN officials have told Inner City Press on background that in Ban's office on the UN's 38th floor, there is talk that many more civilians may be killed in further fighting in and bombing of the so-called No Fire Zone. Why then has Ban Ki-moon backtracked even on calling for a temporary cessation of the fighting, as he did when Inner City Press asked him on February 23?

  President Rajapaksa has said he will not be pressured by the international community, and that the military offensive will continue until the end. After that, Ban backed away from his call for a suspension of bombing, fighting and killing. As his spokesperson clarified at Tuesday's noon briefing, the New York Times' report on April 6 that Ban had the previous day called for "an immediate cease-fire" was and is not true. Ban may ultimately wish that he had, but he has and is not.

  Earlier on April 7, Ban had attended a memorial for the victims in Rwanda in 1994, where the UN is widely acknowledged as having done far too little as civilians were being killed. In fact, Ban was asked "the UN has been accused of cowardice for standing aside in Rwanda fifteen years ago... What is your reaction?"

  Ban replied, "I attended a very solemn meeting this afternoon, and I again expressed my resolve, as Secretary-General, that I will do all in my power not to repeat this kind of human tragedy."

UN's Ban on April 7, speaking on Rwanda and then on Sri Lanka

  Here is the UN's own transcription of Inner City Press' question and Ban's answer on Sri Lanka:

Inner City Press: Given that there are about 100,000 civilians trapped in Sri Lanka between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, it is unclear whether you are asking actually for a ceasefire.  Have you asked the Government to not try to go into the conflict zone in a way that can’t hurt the civilians?  What is the UN’s thinking on Sri Lanka at this time?

S-G Ban Ki-moon:  I have spoken on many occasions with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.  As you know, I have sent OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] Under-Secretary-General, John Holmes.  Even most recently, I have spoken with President Rajapaksa on the necessity and importance of protecting the human rights of civilians who have been trapped in the fighting zones.   I again hope that the Sri Lankan Government takes all necessary measures so that these civilians can move freely, without any danger, without threat, to the safety zone.  At the same time, the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] must fully cooperate with the Government in allowing these civilians so that they can move freely from this war zone.  These are basic human rights and basic humanitarian matters.

  As several reporters noted after Ban's answer, he did not use the word ceasefire, nor even suspension of fighting. Soon Ban will travel to Laos then the ASEAN meeting in Thailand. North Korea's rocket launch will be the hottest topic. By then, what will be the situation in northern Sri Lanka? Watch this site.

Footnote: earlier on April 7, Inner City Press had asked Ban's spokesperson

Inner City Press: yesterday, there was a New York Times story -– this is also on Sri Lanka –- saying that “in his call Sunday for an immediate cease-fire, Ban Ki-moon” blah, blah, blah.  Did I miss something?  Was there a statement Sunday calling for an immediate ceasefire as regards Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson Montas:  No.  Not on Sunday.

Inner City Press:  Has he called for a ceasefire?

Spokesperson:  No, he has called for stopping hostilities –- a pause –- which we mentioned before.

  And then even that was gone...

  Click here for a new YouTube 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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