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Headed to Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Hungry for Visions, Nambiar's and Pascoe's Helping Hands

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

UN PLANE, BAHRAIN, May 22 – Speeding toward Sri Lanka in the UN's Sudan plane, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described to the Press his mission as listening to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's “plans and visions.” Asked if he would “meet with the Tamil minority,” Mr. Ban said, “I am discussing with the Sri Lankan government.

  "As you know, I am visiting only twenty four hours. I have to spend a lot of time on the road, traveling. Therefore as for detailed programs, [chief of staff Vijay] Nambiar is discussing with the Sri Lankan authorities.” With that, Ban referred the Press to his “very senior advisors” John Holmes and Lynn Pascoe, directors of the UN's humanitarian and political operations respectively.

   Holmes, speaking on the record, chided a report who said the UN “hasn't had access for ten days.” He said, “we have had, all the way through, access to the camps.” He said that a few days ago, the government stopped letting the vehicles of the UN as well as non-governmental organizations go into the camps.

  Is access on foot the “unimpeded” access that Ban says is the key “deliverable” he expects from this whirlwind trip? Well, said one wag, the meme “ped,” meaning foot, is in the word “unimpeded.”

   Inner City Press asked Holmes what the UN has done in light of the expose on UK Channel 4 in which people detained in the government camps spoke of women being disappeared and then their bodies dumped. “We don't have hard evidence of that,” Holmes said, adding wisely that it doesn't mean it isn't true. He said that disappearances are not as much of a problem as they were before.

   Holmes said that there are no more civilians in what was the conflict zone. Lynn Pascoe jumped in and specified that this UN position is based on the visual observation of Vijay Nambiar, who was taken by the government on a fly-over of the conflict zone. Then Holmes qualified that no large groups of civilians remain. He might have added: over-ground.

UN's Ban and advisors huddle in UNMIS plane to Sri Lanka, (c) M.Lee

   Inner City Press asked if the UN would provide aid to Sri Lanka without conditions. Holmes first said that “the political situations has to be right,” and the camps in compliance with international law. Then he spoke of raising more money from donors. It was, inevitably, a mixed message. Or as several close Sri Lanka observers have told Inner City Press, the Rajapaksas know that the UN will never stop funding, will never stand up, and so they ignore what the UN says.

   The government has confirmed that it has arrested doctors who stayed in the conflict zone offering treatment and casualty figures. Inner City Press asked Holmes if Ban would raise the issue of these arrests to President Rajapaksa. I'm sure he will, Holmes said. We'll see.  Ban told the Press that, in the run-up to the trip, he spoke with Golden Brown, Hillary Clinton and Bernard Kouchner. None now seems able to block or even delay the $1.9 billion loan the International Monetary Fund wants to give to Sri Lanka. So why should the Rajapaksa's listen?

   As Holmes and Pascoe left, going back up to the first class section in front of the UN plane behind the Velcro-ed curtain, Inner City Press asked Pascoe for the UN's view of the Sri Lankan Constitution's 13th Amendment. It was enacted in 1987 as part of the Indo-Lankan Accords, and provides for some devolution of powers to local, Tamil areas.

  A senior Ban adviser, not present on the trip, told Inner City Press that while Amendment 13 “does not go far enough,” the Rajapaksa are thinking of going back on it. Inner City Press asked Pascoe to comment on this and Pascoe agreed that some say Amendment 13 doesn't go far enough. But are the Rajapaksa's trying to back away even from it? Are these the “plans and visions” that Ban has come to listen to? Watch this site.

Footnote / full disclosure: this reporter has been granted a visa, albeit for only two days, gratis by the Sri Lankan mission to the UN. A request for more than two days resulted in instructions to write a letter, which will be considered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo “after a background check.” Watch this site.

And see, a May 13 Inner City Press debate on Sri Lanka, here

Ambulance aflame in "No Fire" Zone, May 13, 2009

In the final week of fighting we ran this message, from Dr. Sathiyamoorthy

13 May 2009

Dear Sir / Madam,

Heavy battle started since 5.30 am. Many wounded civilians were brought to hospital and hospital is not providing services because hospital was under shell attack. Few staff reported duty. nearly thousand patients are waiting to get daily treatment. But even simple wound dressing and giving antibiotics problems. So many wounded have to die. In the ward among patients many death bodies are there.

Looking hospital seen and hearing the civilians cry really disaster. Did they make any mistake do the world by the innocent. But the important sta[keholders] are just listening the situation and not helping the people.


Regional director of Health Services

Kilinochchi (Now at No Fire Zone)

  From the UN's May 18 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: on Mr. Nambiar. Can you say whether while he is there the issue...there are some saying that there are many people that are now injured in the (inaudible) care in what had been called the no fire zone; and that the ICRC has no access. Is this something that...is this in the case there some doctors who used to report on the casualty figures who have gone missing as reported in the Guardian and the Independent. Are these issues, I mean you mentioned he’s talking about the IDPs instead of post-conflict; what about people that are actually at this moment sort of dying without medical care...(interrupted)?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: Well, that’s the subject that I think John Holmes is going to come and talk to you about right now.

Inner City Press: Burt can you say whether Mr. Nambiar, I guess I am just wondering... -- John Holmes is not there, Mr. Nambiar is -- is this an issue that the UN is urgently raising with the Government or not?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: The Chef de Cabinet’s visit, as we mentioned to you, focuses exactly on the same issues that I just mentioned; which are the United Nations’ and the Secretary-General’s concern. Now, obviously the immediate humanitarian needs on the ground are the utmost priority for all of us.

But what about the doctors?

 On Thursday May 7, Inner City Press asked Associate UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about this invitation that’s been made to the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka. First I wanted to ask if on Monday when he met with the Ambassador of Japan, whether he was briefed on a visit by Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi to Sri Lanka and was urged by Japan that he should take this visit. And I also wanted to know whether he would be in New York 11 May for the Middle East debate, and 15 May to meet with the Chinese diplomats, that in fact this is one reason that he is considering not going, as I have been told by senior Secretariat staff.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we don’t announce the trips of the Secretary-General until they are close to occurring. And in that regard, I don’t have anything to announce about a trip to Sri Lanka at this stage. At the same time, as Michèle told you yesterday, and is still true for today, if the Secretary-General believes that visiting Sri Lanka can have an impact in terms of saving lives there, he will certainly try to go. So he is considering that. But part of what he is studying is what the impact of a potential trip would be.

Inner City Press: But if he had that belief, that would be without regard to attending the 11 May Middle East thing or the 15 May meeting with the Chinese diplomats? I am told that’s a major factor in his planning.

Associate Spokesperson: Scheduling is a separate issue. What we’re talking about is the decision of whether or not to go. And certainly if he can make a difference and can save civilian lives, which is what his priority has been on this case, then he will go. At present, we don’t have anything to announce at all in this regard, though.

Question: Just one last one on that. I wanted to know, can you at least confirm that he met with Ambassador Takasu on Monday in his office inside the Security Council? Can you give a read-out of that meeting and say why it wasn’t on his public schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: I can confirm that he met with the Permanent Representative of Japan. He did that, yes. It was in his office in the Security Council. We don’t provide readouts of meetings with ambassadors.

Question: And why wasn’t it on the schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: It came up all of a sudden when he had a bit of free time in between other appointments on a fairly hectic day.

  On Friday May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:

Inner City Press: On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking? In the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.

   What Ban said did not involve calling for a cease-fire. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel 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 http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56

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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