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On Sri Lanka, Japan Wants UN Briefing, Austria Concerned about Killing by Both Sides

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 23 -- As Sri Lanka's government continues to ignore UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's month-old call for a suspension of fighting in the north, it also bragged of China's blocking of a Security Council briefing requested by the Council's European Union members along with, at least Mexico and the U.S.. Pro-government media claimed over the weekend that Japan, along with six other Council members including Turkey and Uganda, was also opposed to any briefing of the Council.

   Monday outside the Council, Inner City Press asked Japan's Ambassador to the UN, Yukio Takaso, if this is Japan's position. "No, I don't think that is accurate," Ambassador Takasu said of the report Japan does not want a Council briefing. "We are still hoping for consensus," he added.

   Austria's position had been more openly misrepresented, as their support for a Council briefing being based only on the actions of the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. The spokesperson for the Austrian Mission to the UN, Verena Nowotny, in the course of a ten minute clarifying interview with Inner City Press offered the following on-the-record quote, that "because of concern about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, we [Austria] want to make it part of the agenda of the Security Council."

  Inner City Press asked Marty Natalegawa, the UN Ambassador of Indonesia which was on the Security Council last year, why some countries are opposing a briefing in the Council about the conflict in Sri Lanka. "It always starts with a humanitarian briefing," he said, referring among others to Zimbabwe and Myanmar, which humanitarian briefings led to formal inscription on the Council's agenda and, in the case of Zimbabwe, sanctions resolutions proposed by the United States and UK, among others.

   On March 20, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told Inner City Press that "the United States feels strongly about and concerned about Sri Lanka and we support the provision of it to the Council- a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation." (Strangely, India's National Newspaper the Hindu sourced this quote to a Tamil website, when it is available on-camera on the Internet, and through the US Mission to the UN.)

UN's and Japan's Takasu, with former US Amb. Khalilzad, Susan Rice and follow-up not yet shown

  But another Council diplomat on Monday noted that "every country has its list of priorities," and that for the U.S. that for now is Sudan. The U.S. expended political capital to get a Council meeting on Sudan on March 20; how hard the U.S. is pushing for a briefing of the Council with "full and updated information on the humanitarian situation" in Sri Lanka is not clear.

  Likewise, while UK minister David Miliband has said that the UK would like a resolution on Sri Lanka but has held off because it is worse to get resolutions vetoed -- as China and Russia have apparently threatened to do -- it is noted that the UK pushed forward supporting the Zimbabwe draft sanctions resolution even as China and Russia vetoed it. Every country has its priorities.

  A senior UN official opined to Inner City Press that even those countries which are troubled by the killing of civilians in northern Sri Lanka, including by the government, are nevertheless reticent to too openly call for a ceasefire. If they do, the official continued, and the Tamil Tigers bounce back and kill civilians, the Sri Lankan government will blame those who called for the ceasefire.  

   To summarize -- can't tell the players without a scorecard -- those Security Council members which say they are in favor of a Sri Lanka briefing in the Council have the nine votes they would need to get the meeting, if they pushed forward and called the procedural vote they are entitled to, which is not subject to the veto power of China or Russia.  But these ostensible supporters, or at least some of them, are "waiting for consensus," as Japan's Takasu said. Such consensus seems unlikely, unless some countervailing concession is made to, at least, China. What might that be? Watch this site.

Footnote: Japan's priority in the Council for now is the threatened April 4-8 launch by North Korea of a satellite or missile. While Japan said it wanted a Council meeting, it now appears they want the meeting only after the scheduled launch. Japan would like a condemning resolution, but others, including China, want only a less powerful Presidential Statement. Negotiations have already begun -- some have ever mis-reported that a Presidential Statement is already being drafted -- and one wonders how this effects Japan's presentation of its ostensible support for a Council briefing on Sri Lanka...

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN 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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