UN's Ban in Kandy,
Never Called It a Bloodbath, No Word on the Doctors
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
May 23 -- At dusk after a fly-over the blasted No Fire Zone which
many saw as ghoulish, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went to meet
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at his palatial home in Kandy.
The security was tight -- the cellphones of the Press were
confiscated for the duration -- and all three Rajapaksa brothers were
there: beyond the President, his senior advisor Basil and the Defense
Secretary. Also present were the country's former and current
ambassadors to the UN, and the Foreign Secretary, formerly head of
the UN Treaty Division. On a side table in the ceremonial front room
was a picture including the President with George and Laura Bush.
Ki-moon arrived with the Foreign Minister, and took a seat as the
photographers' flashes lit up the room, complete with ivory tusks and
a wood carving of Mahinda. As the photograph surged to catch the
handshake, Ban's humanitarian chief John Holmes reached across the
frame to shake other Sri Lankan hands. "Sit down," more
than one photographer hissed.
chatted about his visit to the camps while the President smiled
broadly. Then the photographers were hustled out into the front yard,
with an enormous tree and a flock of Mercedes Benz. Soldiers with
machines guns jaunted around and the cell phones were returned. The
reason for Ban's delayed arrival was not explained. Earlier on
Saturday, a UN official told Inner City Press that Ban had been
pressured to visit Kandy's famous Buddhist relic temple. Had Ban
given in, one reporter wondered? Why had Kandy been the venue?
an hour later, Ban and the Foreign Minister appeared together again,
though briefly at a press conference in Kandy's Queen's Hotel. In the
sweltering room, Inner City Press commisserated with Elmo Alles of
the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. He explained that his group
applied two weeks ago for permission to go to Vavuniya and Mannar to
train NGO workers in reconciliation. So far there has been no
response. The group has been told that everything must go through the
UN's Ban with reporters, Holmes and Pascoe behind
Alles would have asked, he told Inner City Press, if there is any
international monitoring of the conditions of the IDP camps. If the
question had been allowed, the answer would surely have been vague.
Before the sound system sputtered and brought the proceedings to a
close, Ban went out of his way to emphasize that he never called Sri
Lanka a blood bath. Inner City Press' questions, including about the
detained doctors, were not taken or allowed. And then the visa expired.
This is how it is.
UN's Ban, with Holmes and Pascoe, ghoulish fly-over
the mind numbing helicopter tour, reporter gorged on Sri Lankan Air
Force curry and looked at the photos they'd taken. These are war
crimes on a platter, said one, as
another reporter -- this one -- returned for a second round of
The next stop, before any Internet, would be President
Rajapaksa in the historic city of Kandy. It contains a famous
Buddhist temple, and one UN official admitted to Inner City Press
that Rajapaksa was adament that Ban come to Kandy, and wanted to
parade him through the Buddhist temple of the tooth. Rajapaksa's
really rubbing our noses in it, the official said.
the UN is desperate to be relevant, this is what can happen.
UN's Holmes and Pascoe being questioned by Press on plane
followed a summary of what John Holmes told NGOs behind closed doors,
which even filing from Sri Lanka we'll run in full:
of the trip is "tricky," point is not to "join the
celebrations"; will have to be careful. [In-house, JH had
objected to the trip, as many of you know];
will be de facto a 12-hr day; he cannot extend;
is to go to camps; overfly conflict zone, depending on weather
conditions; meet President and other high-level officials; speak to
press; hopefully meet with civil society (not certain that would
"pretty clear there's nobody in the conflict zone, other than
soldiers." UN has flown over, nothing to be seen from
helicopter. Still, possible to have bodies/people in hiding;
overcrowding in camps: NGOs/UN has to be clear about what we want. Do
we want to move them to another camp or not? Clearly we want quick
returns but in the meantime...
not heard anything about [threat of] suspension of humanitarian
activities; just got off the phone with UN in SL; ICRC had raised
possibility but backed down;
disappearances: not clear how many are sinister. Known that hard-line
cadres are given over to police and are sent to rehabilitation
centres. Reasonably clear that GoSL will try to make sure remaining
LTTE top leadership won't make it out alive;
lower cadres are not really separated from civilians, all enter camps
together, which is not necessarily a good thing, because all are then
viewed as suspects;
be pretty hard to get UN political presence in country; govt very
resistant, uses "home-grown solution" language very
the doctors: they are in detention but are 'healthy' and 'ok, as far
as one can be ok in detention' ;
UNSC: we have not focused on that, happy to brief if requested;
strategy is still to keep on with high-level visits, but will see how
this will happen;
numbers: we have no idea how many have died in the last three days.
Generally, hard to verify numbers, so have been using "some
on, an OCHA staffer advised NGOs to press the issue of MoUs, also to
create more space for the pro-active Holmes.]
...There is no real push-back to the exclusion of vehicles from the IDP
camps. The minutes say that ICRC (the Red Cross) "backed down."
While some UN sources have told Inner City Press that UN staff are
threatening a de facto boycott, Holmes told the Press on the plane
ride to Sri Lanka that this is not the case, that access and work
appears that the Secretariat may not even push to have Ban Ki-moon
briefing the Security Council upon his return to New York. Then
again, in April Ban Ki-moon was only in New York three times, for a
total of five days. A lot is being "phased out."
City Press will be accompanying Ban and Holmes on their whirlwind
tour May 23 and will report on it in real time to the degree possible
given the host country's control of the tour and the lack of internet
access. Watch this site.
here for a short list, compiled on the plane, of other issues Ban might
look into in Sri Lanka
/ 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.
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
Sir / Madam,
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.
director of Health Services
(Now at No Fire Zone)
From the UN's
May 18 noon briefing transcript:
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
Spokesperson Okabe: Well, that’s the subject that I think John
Holmes is going to come and talk to you about right now.
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?
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.
what about the doctors?
May 7, Inner City Press
asked Associate UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq:
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.
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.
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
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?
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
Question: And why wasn’t
it on the schedule?
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.
May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy
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?
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.
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