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UN's Ban Tips Hat to Protesters from High Above NY, Claims He Met With Tamils

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 17, updated -- It was projected as a light evening of honor for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to receive from the Foreign Policy Association a Global Humanitarian Award, along with former US president Bill Clinton.

   Clinton, however, canceled his appearance due to "family health issues" -- word on the street, literally 55th Street in front of the St. Regis Hotel, was that Hilary was in a car crash. [Update: the man in the street, as is so often the case, was half-right: Hilary broken her elbow on the way to the White House, but there was no vehicle involved.] And Ban himself was protested, for hours, with chants urging him to resign, or to "go home," or at least to feel shame.

   The protesters, it must be said, were nearly entirely ethnic Tamils. Despite the tens of thousands of people killed in the war in Sri Lanka, unlike Darfur, Myanmar or the Middle East, the victims have yet to gain noticeable solidarity from non-Tamils. This feels of abandonment was palpable Wednesday night in front of the St. Regis Hotel.

Picketers of Ban in front of St. Regis, June 17, 2009 (c) M.Lee

   Inner City Press, which has asked questions at the UN which have cut both ways but focused on civilians, was filming the photographing the protest. Several of the participants asked, where is the rest of the media? A television producer known to Inner City Press stopped by, gave congratulations for having found the news, but emerged from a cell phone calls saying that "there is no crew."

    One of the protesters asked, "No clue?" The producer continued along. Later two Turkish journalists stopped by, on their way to covering Ban Ki-moon's speech. They urged Inner City Press to come upstairs and hear it. Since Ban had slipped by the protesters -- click here for the blow by blow report filed in real time with wireless Internet from the street -- there was little left to do but to go up and hear him.

   A half-dozen seats had been set in the back of the ballroom for the press. There had been a reception; dinner had been served. Now Ban Ki-moon arose, and to his credit made a joke. "I was impressed and encouraged," he began, "I know there were hundreds of people who were welcoming me or some other person in front of the hotel."

   The audience, a mix of Ambassadors and business people, laughed. Several had been shouted at as they entered. Claude Heller, the Ambassador of Mexico who had at least tried to get the Security Council to consider the plight of civilians in Sri Lanka, had stopped and told Inner City Press, "this is good." But others hurried back the protest, as in finding the mention much less chanting of the word genocide in Midtown Manhattan distasteful.

   Ban said of the protesters, "I am aware of their concerns, their pride, their challenges... that is exactly why I went to Sri Lanka four weeks ago." It was May 23, and Inner City Press was with him. Ban said he had visited the IDP camps, "met with government leaders, with representatives of the opposition, representatives of the Tamil minority."

   About this last, doubts exist. As the press corps sat waiting on the UN plane at Colombo's airport, Inner City Press was told that Tamil MPs who had been promised a meeting with Ban were barred from the airport.

   Inner City Press asked UN officials Lynn Pascoe and John Holmes about this, and was told an answer was been forthcoming. None has been provided. Neither was visibly in attendance on Wednesday night, but seated with Ban was his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar.

Sign in front of St. Regis Hotel, June 17, 2009, (c) M.Lee

   Down on 55th Street, a protesters displayed a sign, "$ for the Nambiyar brothers," meaning Vijay and Satish, a former Indian general part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force which occupied northern Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, strafing the population and losing 1500 troops before decamping.

    Many, including some of Ban's own senior advisors, say that sending Nambiar at the UN's envoy was unwise. Nambiar has been quoted that the doubts are beneath contempt. If so he better look around himself, as the doubts extend to the UN's 38th floor around him. Ban moved from Sri Lanka to the climate change issue, urging the Foreign Policy Association to help him "seal the deal in Copenhagen."

   The FPA, whose board members include former AIG big wig Maurice Greenberg and the CEO of Santander, a bank which allegedly laundered money for Augusto Pinochet, on Wednesday also gave an award to the CEO of an Italian oil company. These hypocrisies are beyond the scope of this article.

    Inner City Press had waited outside the St. Regis from six to 8:30 p.m., seeking to get from Ban himself a reaction to the protest. After the speeches and the dinner, Ban was spirited out by a side door, and faced neither the protesters nor the Press. A swag bag was passed out, with publications about oil.

   Down on 55th Street, the protesters had been told to leave at 8:30 by the police, who said that hotel had cooperated at much as it would. Ban said he heard the protesters, but he never faced them. His spokespeople have told Inner City Press that they will not comment on "what you read in the news about Sri Lanka." How about mass internment? Watch this site.

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UN's Ban Protested for Inaction on Sri Lanka Ethnic Cleansing

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

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, June 17 -- With over 300,000 Tamils locked up in UN-funded internment camps in northern Sri Lanka, a routine appearance by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was protested Wednesday evening in New York. Less than a month ago, Ban with the Press had stood in the largest of the camps, Manik Farm in Vavuniya, as interned Tamil children sung his name. At that time, Ban had smiled.

With Ban slated to received a "global humanitarian award" along with Bill Clinton, in a police pen outside Manhattan's St. Regis Hotel a crowd gathered. They chanted, "Ban Ki-moon, Ban Ki-moon, don't cover up genocide!" "Close the camps, free the people!"

Some of Ban's security detail arrived before the 6:30 p.m. beginning of the event and surveyed the crowd. Ban himself did not come, even as of 7:35. Mexico's Claude Heller stopped on the way and remarked to Inner City Press, "This is good." The UN's Amir Dossal appeared to grimace on his way in. Ex-journalist Warren Hoge stopped briefing to look and then went in. The tension built. Watch this space.

Update of 7:58 p.m. -- a police four by four has been placed next to the police pen and the protessters. Black cars line 55th street, drivers watching the protest. Where is Ban?

Update of 8:00 p.m. -- one chant that fell flat for being too abstract has been, "Don't kill R 2 P!" The Italian Ambassador has gone in. The protesters wonder out loud, is there another way in? Or might Ban simply cancel his appearance?

Update of 8:11 p.m. -- The UK's Deputy Permanent Representative, whose boss for now had just been named the head of MI6, has just arrived, glancing briefly across 55th Street at the chanters before heading in to the St. Regis.

Update of 8:35 p.m. -- Although his security has twice passed by, Mr. Ban is still not here. The police are saying, the permit runs only to 8:30 p.m.. Gamesmanship?

Update of 9:25 p.m. -- as the protest permit expired at 8:30 p.m., Inner City Press ventured in to cover the event. Ban was, in fact, inside, with three security guards. When he spoke, he mentioned the protesters and said, that's why I went to Sri Lanka. He said he met with the opposition, which is not at all clear. He said he is a voice of the voiceless. Then he said, seal the deal in Copenhagen. The Foreign Policy Association congratulated its corporate partners. Several Ambassadors left.

Update of 10:29 p.m. - the above was delayed because the St Regis 20th floor ballroom did not have wireless Internet. As the event broke up, Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- the subject of a sign down in the streets below -- was visible, along with Bob Orr. Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad stopped and said hello. Ban was whisked out another door. But the voice of the protesters was heard, and the questions will be pursued. 10-4

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Prison Labor, New GA President Will Not Explain

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- The UN at all levels demonstrates blindness with respect to Sri Lanka, from the use of prison labor in the now emptied out north to even recognizing the name of the country. Incoming General Assembly president Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya on Friday took questions from the Press.

  Inner City Press asked him about two countries, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. To the latter, Libya agreed to a $500 million loan, to make up for the $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund delayed by reports of mistreatment of civilians. Inner City Press asked Treki, since Libya was among those blocking Security Council action, if he could imagine Sri Lanka being taken up in the General Assembly, as Myanmar has been. Video here, from Minute 17:46.

  Ali Treki latched on to the Myanmar part of the question, praising the UN's envoy to that country Ibrahim Gambari, whom he said he knew when Gambari was the foreign minister of the Sani Abacha administration in Nigeria. He said he would meet with Gambari on Friday afternoon to get a report about Myanmar. About Sri Lanka, Treki said nothing, then moved on to another questioner.

  Inner City Press followed up, asking why Libya didn't view the conflict in Sri Lanka as impacting international peace and security. Treki said it "interests the world, the human rights aspect," but that what "Asia says is very important, they tell us if what goes on in Myanmar" effects peace and security. Video here, from Minute 19:39.

   So had Treki simply refused to answer about Sri Lanka? He will be president of the UN General Assembly from September 2009 through August 2010.

UN's Ban and Libya's Ali Treki, action on Sri Lanka and prison labor not shown

   Meanwhile at the UN's noon media briefing on June 12, asked Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson Michele Montas had read out a statement that access to the camps in Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka is getting better and new camps are being built -- internment camps, with UN money -- Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to Sri Lankan authorities' statement that they will use prison labor in the north.

  Ms. Montas said "no comment at this point, maybe later we will see how the issue is being discussed." Video here, from Minute 18:39.

    Later Ms Montas' office sent Inner City Press the following response:

Subj: Response from OCHA on your question at the noon briefing
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/12/2009 12:43:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

On use of prison labour in reconstruction in Sri Lanka, we have not heard these allegations and have no information.

   Apparently, the UN's "close monitoring" of Sri Lanka doesn't even read the news from Colombo, with quotes from government officials:

Prison inmates to be deployed for the redevelopment process in Sri Lanka's North

Thu, Jun 11, 2009, 11:51 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

June 11, Colombo: Sri Lanka government is planning to deploy prison inmates for the redevelopment process in the liberated areas of the North.

Prison Commissioner General, Major General V.R Silva told the media that this would be an appropriate decision to develop the liberated areas in North.

According to statistics there are nearly 30,000 inmates are in the prisons at the moment. Most of them are able bodied people with various skills, he added.

    Yes, the skills of those in jail, including for violent crime, are those the Sri Lankan government is unleashing in the north. And the UN? They "have not heard these allegations and have no information." 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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