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As Sri Lanka Says No to Conditions, UN Says It Will Set Them, Journalists and UNESCO

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 18 -- The day after it emerged that the UN has known of at least 2,683 civilians killings in Sri Lanka between January 20 and March 7 of this year, the UN's expert on Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy acknowledged the UN is funding the government's so-called detention camps. Video here, from Minute 15:43. She said, however, that any long-term funding should be conditioned on the internally displaced people -- who are Tamils -- have freedom of movement. Currently, they cannot leave the camps, and no one can visit them.

   The government of Sri Lanka, meanwhile, is opposing any conditions from anyone, including on the $1.8 billion loan they have applied to from the International Monetary Fund.  A week ago, Inner City Press asked the IMF's spokesman David Hawley if the Fund was considering any safeguards that the loans not support the military conflict in the north, on which already one briefing as been held in the UN Security Council. Mr. Hawley said to wait and watch what conditions are imposed. Now the government says there will be no conditions at all. But will there be a loan? 

   Inner City Press on Wednesday asked Nicholas Burnett, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, why his agency, while condemn crackdowns on the press in the Philippines and elsewhere has said nothing about the newspaper editors locked up during the current conflict, and journalists previously killed. Mr. Burnett said, I can get you an answer. Video here, from Minute 18:36.  Three hours later his spokesperson asked Inner City Press to email the questions, which was done:

As I asked at the briefing earlier today, what has UNESCO had to say about the recent imprisonment of two journalists in Sri Lanka, on which RSF is requesting UN action

  This is a specific request, also, for comment on 1) the killing of a journalist described at

and 2) on the comments which the Sri Lankan President’s brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa made about Vithyatharan in an interview for ... Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). “He is involved in the recent air attack and I am telling you if you try to give cover-up for that person you have blood in your hands,” Rajapaksa said. “And if someone says he is arrested because he is in media, that person also has blood on his hands.”

  UNESCO's answers, not received the day the question was asked at noon, will be published on this site after they are received.

UN's Bank and Sri Lankan President's advisor and brother, camps not show

For the record, this has been the UN's response to the media on the publication of the leaked casualty memo, at the March 18 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: I think it was last month you’d said that the United Nations doesn’t count bodies, it just helps people; that it didn’t have a count of casualties.  Yesterday, it came into my possession, an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] document that says, unequivocally, the total minimum number of civilian casualties is 9,000, including 2,683 deaths.  So I am wondering if in fact OCHA was counting, you know, as I think it probably should be [interrupted].

Spokesperson Montas:  No, they’re not counting them directly.  What we said was that we rely on numbers given to us locally, nationally.  We don’t ourselves count the bodies.

Inner City Press: Right, but I guess if you had this document (interrupted).

Spokesperson Montas:  That was an estimate, I gather.

Inner City Press: But it says 2683, so it’s a pretty precise number.  And my understanding from what I gathered is that this is the number and that the United Nations tried not to release the number in order not to offend the Government of Sri Lanka.  Is that (interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  Well, it seems to be released, since you’re reading it.

Inner City Press: Well, yeah, I got it, so, I mean.  But I guess even, my understanding is in these OCHA briefings that they do -- with some diplomats, they didn’t give the number.  I guess I just want to square, first of all, I want to confirm that this is OCHA’s… I guess I just want you to say something about it.

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot confirm that.  This is an estimate, and you can talk to OCHA about how they reached that estimate. 

Inner City Press: Is there some way to know why in some cases the United Nations does provide numbers?  Even recently, people have been asking about the Darfur number, the 300,000 number.  There, they gave a number.  Here, they hid a number.  So I don’t understand.

Spokesperson:  Well, because sometimes we don’t have the information, the exact information to be able to reach even an estimate.  It’s just a function of how much information we get on the ground. 

  So by the UN's logic, a government benefits from excluding the press. We'll await UNESCO's answers. Watch this site.

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.

* * *

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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