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In Sri Lanka, Nambiar Believed President, Ban's Briefing Unnoticed, UN Studies Prosecution of Press

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 4 -- Days after the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denied he and the UN were downplaying civilian casualties and problems in Sri Lanka, on June 4 his Spokesperson Michele Montas had nothing to say about the government's media minister's threat to prosecute journalists for not being sufficiently patriotic.

  While Ms. Montas read into the record an admission of Mr. Ban's envoy Vijay Nambiar's role in an attempted surrender that turned into murder, she said there is not way for the UN to know who killed whom. Ban will speak to the Security Council in the UN basement Friday afternoon, in an event not even listed in the day's UN Media Alert. The meeting, the Turkish Ambassador emphasized, is "unofficial."

At the June 4 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked, video here from Minute 14:54

Inner City Press: Sure, Michele. I have two questions. One is, in Sri Lanka, the Media Minister has been quoted that the Government is now preparing to bring charges against journalists it considered to have either been supportive of the LTTE or not sufficiently supportive of the Government’s charge. Human Rights Watch has spoken out against this. Does the UN have anything to say about that?

Montas: Well, it was an intention stated. We don't... We are following the situation. The same thing for the doctors, who are , as you know, accused also of collaboration. We’re following the situation closely. That’s all really I can say at this point.

   The "we don't," which can plainly be heard in the recording of the briefing, video here from Minute 14:54, was not included in the UN's official transcript. We don't comment on intentions, is what it appears Montas was going to say. No, the UN lets them do it first. That is why their "never again" is not credible.

 The day after Inner City Press asked about Nambiar's role, Montas came to the briefing with a day-old answer and read it aloud:

Montas: In response to questions I received yesterday, as he had confirmed while in Sri Lanka, Mr. Vijay Nambiar had indeed communicated to the Sri Lankan Government the conditions for the surrender of a specific group of LTTE members. This had been passed onto him, first through a Western journalist, Marie Colvin, and subsequently through an LTTE interlocutor, before he arrived in Sri Lanka.

He, in turn, relayed the insistence of the Sri Lankan Government that any surrender would have to be to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and not through or to a third party. In response to a subsequent request received during the last hours of the fighting for the surrender of two individuals, Nadesan and Puleedeevan, in the presence of parties other than the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, he relayed the Government’s earlier response, and the assurance given to him, that this group need only display a white flag to the Armed Forces to safely effect their surrender.

This last request conveyed to him through Ms. Colvin was also apparently transmitted directly to several other persons, including Colombo-based diplomats and politicians. These were, in turn, we understand, communicated to high governmental levels and were responded to with similar assurances.

   This did not state what happened. Since despite the white flag they were killed, does the UN still believe and pass on the Sri Lankan Government's (and President's) assurances?

UN' Ban in Denmark at wind farm, UN's hot air on Sri Lanka not shown

 Inner City Press followed up:

Inner City Press: And what you read about Mr. Nambiar, I mean, thanks for getting an answer. What left me unclear is that it said he passed on the assurances. Is it the UN’s understanding that the individuals to whom he passed on the assurances are now dead, and, if so, has the UN conducted any inquiry to find out who killed them?

Spokesperson: Well, there is nothing we can do. As you know, there was no way for Mr. Nambiar [to go to the conflict area]. And it was a decision by the Sri Lankan Government [to give access or not to that area].

Inner City Press: Has the UN continued to ask for access to what was called conflict zones, given reports that there are still bodies being buried or otherwise being concealed?

Spokesperson: We have been [asking] over and over again. As you know, we cannot ourselves decide to go there.

  Some have joked, macabrely, that while waiting outside the UN Security Council's closed door meeting on Sri Lanka on Friday, one should have and wave a white flag -- and a flak jacket. We'll see.

Footnote: at another briefing Thursday about the International Criminal Court's indictment of Sudan's President al Bashir for war crimes, Inner City Press asked Omer Ismael of the Washington-based Enough Project to comment on the lack of prosecution, and even criticism, of Sri Lanka's war in and on the North.

 Mr. Ismael responded by saying that the United States and Israel invaded Iraq and Palestine, respectively, while in Sudan "my government is killing its own people." He said that in Sudan, the justice system will not investigate government war crimes. Video here, from Minute 52:30. Inner City Press asked if he was really distinguishing Sri Lanka. I don't know Sri Lanka, he said. That's said a lot at the UN.

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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.

 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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