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EU's Ashton, Who Cut Sri Lanka's GSP Plus, Says Rajapaksa Blocks Inquiries, While Ban Praises His "Flexibility"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 8 -- While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praises Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa's “flexibility,” even as Ban's Panel on Accountability is blocked from traveling to Colombo, the EU's Catherine Ashton on Tuesday was more direct when Inner City Press asked her Tuesday about the removal of GSP Plus tariff benefits for the country.

  “It's me that did the GSP Plus removal from Sri Lanka,” she said. “It's important if you have a program that says, this is conditionality, if you don't do it or you do something in breach of it that there are consequences. I stand by that completely. We did our own independent look into what had been going on. I'd like to see Sri Lanka make progress.”

Inner City Press asked her about the UN's position, saying (before being cut off by her spokesman) that “the government is not going to allow.”

Ashton said that “the government usually doesn't allow things like that. The President took the power to prevent independent inquiry, wouldn't allow someone in to do the inquiry into GSP Plus, which meant that it was much more complicated. So the words 'the government doesn't allow' are not unusual.”

Catherine Ashton at the UN, previously, on Rajapaksas, All in the Family

Meanwhile Ban Ki-moon cites a 2005 visit while he was South Korean foreign minister as somehow pushing for accountability, and praises Rajapaksa's “flexibility.” Seven weeks later, with the UN now offering Sri Lanka a mere video conference call, will Ban explain his statements? Watch this site.

Inner City Press also asked Ashton about Myanmar. She said she and ASSK are exchanging letters, and that she hopes the EU will be able to send someone to visit her soon, as well as others in the opposition. We'll see.

* * *

On Sri Lanka War Crimes, UN's Ban at Oxford Listed 2005 Trip for S. Korea, Now His Panel Offers Mere Video Call

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 7 -- “I visited Sri Lanka twice” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on February 2 at Oxford, answered a question about the UN failing to protect Tamils and failing to pursue accountability for those who ordered them killed.

Inner City Press had covered Ban's May 2009 trip to Sri Lanka, but was unaware of any other trip Ban made to the country since he became UN Secretary General. So for five days Inner City Press has asked Ban's spokesperson Martin Nesirky for the date of the second trip, without response.

On February 7 at the day's UN press briefing, Inner City Press asked Nesirky if Ban might paradoxically have been referring to a trip he made in 2005, when he did not yet work for the UN but was South Korea's foreign minister.

I think your analysis is correct,” Nesirky said, “he was referring to a trip he made when he was foreign minister.”

The question still remains, what was accomplished for accountability during that trip? Some in fact tie that 2005 trip, which included a detour to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Southern hometown of Hambantota where late a Chinese port was built with South Korea involvement, with Rajapaksa convincing Sri Lanka's candidate for Secretary General to withdraw in favor of Ban.

UN's Ban & M. Rajapaksa in 2010, specifics of 2005 trip not shown

Here is how media reported the 2005 trip at the time:

Korean PM here today

Lee Hae-chan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea will be in Sri Lanka today and tomorrow... The Prime Minister will be accompanied by a high level delegation including Ban Ki-moon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kang Dong-suk, Minister of Construction and Transportation and Cho Young-taek, Vice Minister for Public Policy Co-ordination in Prime Minister's Office... The relief supplies will be later distributed by the Korean NGOs operating in Sri Lanka. Together with Prime Minister Rajapakse, Prime Minister Hae-chan will travel along the western coast to have a first-hand view of the destruction to lives, livelihoods and property and will make a stop-over in Hambantota.

How is referring to this trip an answer to this question, asked at Oxford?

Q: The UN has failed to protect and prevent in such countries as Sri Lanka, where over 40,000 innocent civilians were massacred in 2009. Will you ensure, during your term, that those responsible are brought to justice? Will you ensure there is a proper investigation of war crime?

On this last, Ban on February 2 said

I visited Sri Lanka twice and I had very serious talks with the President and Government leaders. After a lengthy, very difficult, almost turbulent course of negotiations, I was able to convince the Sri Lankan Government that a group of experts would be established. Still, it has not yet been able to complete its mission. They are still negotiating with the Sri Lankan Government.

Inner City Press on February 7 asked Ban's spokesman to confirm or deny that the UN is now offering Sri Lanka a mere video conference call or even just written questions, rather than a visit. The discussions continue, Nesirky said, repeating that a visit to Sri Lanka is “not essential.” Nesirky's Deputy Farhan Haq said that a visit to Sri Lanka is “desirable.” So what is a video conference, or written questions? Watch this site.

* * *

Blocked from Sri Lanka, UN Panel Now Offers Video Conference or Written Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- Seven weeks after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Press that his Panel on Accountability could travel to Sri Lanka due to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's “flexibility,” the UN has sunk so low as to propose a conference call by video, or even just written questions and answer, instead of any visit, Inner City Press has learned.

In interviews with different sides, Inner City Press has learned that a series of options has now been proposed, starting with a visit to New York by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission.

Rajapaksa's LLRC has said it will only speak with the Executive Office of the Secretary General, not Ban's panel -- the Panel would “sit in” on the talks, was the Sri Lankan proposal.

The UN has also proposed a video conference call, or answers to a series of written questions about accountability. All in all, strikingly different than what Ban claimed on December 17 -- that his panel could go to Sri Lanka -- and that Ban repeated to Inner City Press on January 14.

UN's Ban and his Panel: office of video conference not shown

  After that, and after Ban's Spokesperson's Office refused repeatedly to answer questions about Ban's statement and who he'd spoken with before making them, while on his current ongoing trip Ban gave a speech at Oxford, after which he replied to a question by saying that his Panel “has not yet been able to complete its mission. They are still negotiating with the Sri Lankan Government.”

On February 4, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson's office in writing and in person to explain this statement (as well as Ban's statement that he had been in Sri Lanka twice since May 2009).

The UN did not answer the written questions -- and still hasn't -- so at the February 4 noon briefing Inner City Press asked how Ban's statement squares with the previous statement that travel to Sri Lanka, which has been blocked by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is “not essential.”

Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq answered that Ban's Panel “has been discussing the proper arrangements to see if they can have such arrangements made.”

Haq said that of the Panel that “they do believe it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential.”

Now it seems that the UN would settle for a mere video conference call, or even written answers to questions. How could that constitute “completing the mission”?

From the UN's February 4, 2011 transcript:

Inner City Press: I want to ask on Sri Lanka; there was some quotes given out of Ban Ki-moon’s responses at his Oxford speech afterward. He was asked a question about Sri Lanka, and he said that his panel, quote, “has not been able to complete their initial stage”. I just wanted to know if that’s actually what he said and if that, how that squares with the idea that it’s not essential to go to Sri Lanka.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq: In terms of what he actually said, it’s available in our — if you go to the off-the-cuff part of our website, the questions and answers that he had at Oxford are posted there. So, you could see it that way.

Inner City Press: How does that square with the idea that travelling to Sri Lanka is not essential? Why have they not been able to complete their work, if that’s not the thing missing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As you are aware, the panel has been discussing proper arrangements, to see whether it can have such arrangements made. The panel has made it clear that they do believe that it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential. And that has been their consistent position.

  Is it consistent to now be offering video conference or written questions? Watch this site.

 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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