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On Sri Lanka, No Answer on Nambiar's Role in Deadly Surrender, IDP Counting Questioned

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 3 -- As doubts grow about what the UN did and didn't do in Sri Lanka's killing fields, the UN left a simple factual question unanswered on June 3. Inner City Press asked, at the day's UN media briefing in New York

Inner City Press: There are media reports quoting Vijay Nambiar on 17 May as having said that he spoke with these two LTTE leaders, not the founder, but the two that tried to surrender, that he spoke to them through this one person called KP and conveyed it to the Government and conveyed back through KP that they should come out with a white flag. By all accounts, they were then shot. And what I am wondering is whether… In this media account it says that Vijay Nambiar was invited to go and witness this surrender, somehow to go to northern Sri Lanka and become more involved. Can you confirm that these communications, you know, there are quotes that are out there, so the UN can either deny or confirm them? But did it take place and what’s its role?

Spokesperson Michele Montas: Let me… I’ll ask Mr. Nambiar.

   Nine hours later, no response has been provided. The UN's Vijay Nambiar has been quoted that "as for the insinuations in a section of the Press about me and my brother, I do not deem it warrants even a response." While Vijay's brother Satish has written an op-ed praising the Sri Lankan general who conducted the controversial offensive in northern Sri Lanka, the more fundamental question is whether given Sri Lankan history Ban Ki-moon should have sent a former Indian diplomat as his envoy. Even some of Ban's closest advisers think not.

UN's Kofi Annan in 2004 with Vijay Nambiar, then India's Ambassador

   And now, no answer in nine hours about possible involvement in a violation of the Geneva Conventions, to whit, the shooting of people surrendering waving white flags. Some UN sources describe the additional involvement of presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa, who met with Ban Ki-moon in January in New York and on May 23 in Kandy, the Buddhist shrine town where Ban consented to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  On June 3, Inner City Press also asked

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, there are these OCHA reports they put out, you know, situation reports. And the one of 30 May says that, you know, in essence it says that, it decreases the number of IDPs in the camps by 13,000 and it says, in a single line it says this decrease is associated with double-counting. In the previous report [27 May], which had 13,000 more IDPs, it said that the system was improved systematic registration. So what is the UN doing to make sure that people aren’t actually disappearing from the camps when its own numbers reflect 13,000 people missing?

Spokesperson Montas: Well, I have to say that it is a rather an unusual situation. There is such a massive influx of people, which can explain that the registration process -- which is still ongoing, by the way -- there was some double counting that was involved. And, as soon as they found out they rectified the numbers to reflect that. So, the UN can, you know, we’re there… They’re not our camps, you know. We’re there to assist for better treatment of the IDPs.

Inner City Press: Since the numbers were so specific, can the… is the UN then by saying that the entire 13,130 that are missing are just double counting, is it saying that no one has been taken out of the camps?

Spokesperson Montas: That is what OCHA is saying. It is double counting, they went through it several times, and it is double counting. It is not about people missing.

   We'll see -- watch this site.

On Sri Lanka, Ban Will Brief in UN Basement June 5, Of "Missing" IDPs and Ms. Butenis

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 2, 11 am -- Two weeks after his fly-over the shattered "No Fire" Zone in Sri Lanka, on June 5 Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will finally brief the UN Security Council, albeit in the basement, on par with Sri Lanka's ambassador. The format will be an "informal interactive dialogue" of the Council, of the type held before Mr. Ban's one-day trip.

   Now, with public reports of the number of civilian dead climbing past 20,000 and Mr. Ban fending off allegations in mainstream newspapers that he and his envoy Vijay Nambiar downplayed the carnage in Sri Lanka, Ban will descend to the basement and give a closed-door briefing, as Mr. Nambiar previously resisted.

In Sri Lanka, UN's Ban's banner, some IDPs not shown

   The UN seems to hope that this will be the final briefing, at least at the Security Council. But with the UN now on the hook to fund what some call ethnic cleansing camps, and a new controversy about over 13,000 camp detainees suddenly gone "missing" in the UN's own reports -- click here for Inner City Press' exclusive story -- the UN will be under pressure to do something, anything. If the recent past is any guide, it will try to resist this pressure, and even to attack the messenger.

 In Washington, President Obama has put forward a nomination for the next US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia A. Butenis of Virginia. More on to follow -- watch this site.

In Sri Lanka 13,130 Missing IDPs Reported But Downplayed By UN, Journalist Beaten

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 -- With the UN already under fire for withholding and downplaying the number of civilian casualties in Sri Lanka, another ongoing controversy has opened up concerning the number of internally displaced persons detained in the IDP camps in northern Sri Lanka. Between the May 27 and May 30 reports of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 13,000 IDPs simply disappeared from the camps.

   OCHA's May 30 report states that "276,785 persons crossed to the Government controlled areas from the conflict zone. This represents a decrease of 13,130 IDPs since the last report (Sitrep No.18) on 27 May 2009. The decrease is associated with double counting. Additional verification is required."

   But earlier, OCHA had praised the "improved, systematic registration being undertaken in the camps."

    UN sources in Colombo tell Inner City Press that senior UN officials above them, Sri Lankan nationals who are Sinhalese, are downplaying the 13,000 "missing" IDPs, which would otherwise be of much concern given the reports of disappearances from the camps, the seizing of teenage males for detention and females for other purposes, UK Channel 4 asserted with on camera interviews.

UN's Pascoe and Holmes, head of OCHA, questioned by Press, missing IDPs not shown

    These UN sources are surprised, since even Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is under fire for downplaying what has happened to the Tamils, that the UN would be so seemingly cavalier about 13,000 "missing" persons from almost entirely Tamil interment camps.

    Meanwhile, in further fall out, journalist Poddala Jayantha, secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association, was kidnapped near his home and severely beaten with sticks before being dumped in a suburb of Colombo. The government had accused him of being too sympathetic to the Tamil Tiger -- or just to the Tamils. The UN, too, has its different way of trying to crack down on journalists. Watch this site.

On Sri Lanka, UN's Dodging Comes Home to Roost, UK Could Have Put on Council Agenda

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 29 -- As UN sources in Sri Lanka were quoted that beyond the 7000 civilian killings in the leaked UN estimates that Inner City Press obtained and published at the end of April, one thousand more civilians were being killed every day in May, responses at the UN in New York grew ever more muted.

   Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Mr. Ban will push to brief the Security Council about the May 23 tour of Sri Lanka. Ms. Okabe would not answer, saying "I have nothing to announce." Because Sri Lanka never by vote put on the Council's agenda, all members including Russia, China, Libya and Vietnam would have to agree, to hear from Ban. But is he even asking?

Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador to the UN John Sawers would what the Security Council did and didn't do as civilian casualties mounted in north Sri Lanka. Sawers responded that "we had the votes" to put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda, but chose not to, to preserve "unanimity." He claimed that the Sri Lankan government felt pressure from the Council and the Ban administration's visits. Apparently they would have killed even more.

In No Fire Zone, burned trees, blasted ship, (c) M.Lee 5/23/09

   At a reception at the Russian Ambassador's residence on May 28, Inner City Press asked Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN about reports of Sinhalese mob violence against Tamils. He responded that while the fears are real, the country hadn't had a death by communal violence since 1983. He said that the newspaper editor arrested after the Tamil Tigers' last attempted plane bombing of Colombo has been released. The UN says that the doctors who remained in the conflict zone offering treatment and casualty figures are still in government detention.

   On civilian death figures, at Friday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the UN's Marie Okabe is, beyond the previously leaked and published figures of 2600 by March 7 and 7000 by the end of April, the UN had compiled any figures at all in May. Ms. Okabe, alongside reading a long and convoluted answer, said "ask OCHA." And thus the run-around continues. We will continue to follow these issues -- 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

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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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