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On Sri Lanka, France Pitches Hospital Not IMF or Genocide, Ban Vs. Adada

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 28, updated -- As French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner was en route to Sri Lanka, his ambassador at the UN Jean-Maurice Ripert explained to Inner City Press Kouchner's reasoning for going, and for not cancelling his trip after Sri Lanka denied Sweden's foreign minister a visa, saying that France and the UK were only allowed in as two of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.

   "They have already left," Ripert said, referring to Kouchner and UK foreign minister David Miliband.  "We have deployed a very important hospital structure, more than 1 [m]illion Euro for humanitarian help... the British have given 2 million something, so they want to go there and put some pressure."

  Of Kouchner, Ripert said "he wants to install the hospital as close as possible to the conflict zone and he thinks he has to be there to be sure it goes there."  Of the barring of Sweden's minister, Ripert said "it has been condemned by the presidency of the EU... We don't go there as Europeans, we go there are French and British. We have been the ones, I was the one last week starting the whole process. They will meet with the president and his brother the minister of defense."

   Inner City Press asked about the EU's leverage over Sri Lanka on tariff issues, and the pending request for a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.  "The Americans want to play with the question of the IMF loan," Ripert said, "what is important is to get the commitment to stop."

Supplemental analysis: the Ripert quote "The Americans want to play with the question of the IMF loan" is verbatim. However a desires has been expressed to add that the question of the IMF loan is being discussed, is in the air, by the American and others, but that France believes the priority should be on getting a commitment to stop, presumably the bombing and offensive military action in the "No Fire" zone.

   Ripert was asked if what is happening in Sri Lanka might be genocide. He answered, "When you start a discussion of words, then one doesn't talk about the subject, you talk about the words."

   Inner City Press asked if Vijay Nambiar told the Council that Sri Lanka had agreed to a UN humanitarian assessment mission to the conflict zone. "I'm not sure," Ripert answered.

France's Kouchner, Ripert in back at right, use of leverage not shown

  At the UN's noon briefing on Tuesday, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: First, I wanted to know if the UN has any response to the Government’s barring and denial of a visa to the Swedish Foreign Minister.  There was a three-country team there.  Does the UN think that was a useful move?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any reaction at this point on this.

Inner City Press: And Mr. Holmes had announced a $10 million CERF grant to Sri Lanka.  Given the issues that have arisen about the camps and detention and lack of freedom of movement, [are] there any kind of conditions on that money?  And was there any development on the 13 UN staff members still held in the camps?

Spokesperson:  We have no new development on the 13 staff members.  They are still there.  I can also add that Mr. Holmes stressed yesterday -- when he spoke publicly -– he stressed with Government officials the need for a humanitarian pause to conduct an assessment of the conflict and to bring in emergency supplies, including food and medical supplies.  And he also asked for access to the screening points and the need for the release of those 13 UN staff members, and approximately 207 members of non-governmental organizations who are also trapped in the area.  But you can ask further questions.  In terms of the Fund itself, you can ask Mr. Holmes tomorrow, since you’ll get a chance to talk to him tomorrow afternoon.

Inner City Press: Maybe I didn’t understand correctly, but when Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar [the Secretary-General’s envoy to Sri Lanka] returned, it seemed like the Secretary-General put out a statement that there had been a commitment by the Government to allow a humanitarian team into the conflict zone.  Since it hasn’t happened yet -– and there’s some confusion about what was actually committed to -– I just want to ask again if it’s at all possible to have some opportunity with Mr. Nambiar that he speak to the press and say what took place over there.  Since he was the envoy.

Spokesperson:  I think what Mr. Nambiar has said was reflected in the statements we put out.  He had received the agreement of the Government.  So I don’t have any further comments on that.  In terms of what had actually happened since Mr. Holmes met with the President, you can ask your question to Mr. Holmes.

Inner City Press: But Mr. Nambiar -– since Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari [and other] various envoys that the Secretary-General sends, they almost always brief the press.  And you always say, “We’ll make the request”, and then they’re possible.  Is there some reason -– can Mr. Nambiar brief or can he give some statement of why he’s not doing it?

Spokesperson Montas:  He doesn’t have to do it, you know.

   And coming out of the Secretary General's monthly lunch with the Security Council, Nambiar did not say anything.

 Footnote: The politics of Darfur, or how the issue is concerned at the UN and in the West, were on display Tuesday at the Security Council's monthly lunch with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. While this event is decidedly closed to the press, well placed sources at the lunch immediately afterwards told Inner City Press that Mr. Ban assured "the Western powers" -- the US, France and UK -- that he had already spoken to his envoy to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, about their concerns Adada has gone soft on Khartoum and President al-Bashir. This showed, the sources said, Ban's approach to Western powers, and these powers lack of seriousness, then, on the question of Sri Lanka.

Footnote: We continue to wait for the UK's formal answer to the first of the two questions which Inner City Press asked the UK Mission to the UN two questions on Sri Lanka early on April 15:

Does the UK believe that international law and the rights of UN humanitarian staff are being violated by the now-acknowledged detention of UN staff in the Sri Lankan government's “IDP” camps?

It has been reported this morning that Sri Lanka's “minister also told the British Foreign Secretary that there was concern that the LTTE would continue to consolidate its fortification of the No-Fire Zone.” Please confirm the accuracy of that, and of this and if so, does the UK interpret it as saying that an offensive on the No-Fire Zone and the civilians in it will begin? What did the UK Foreign Secretary say?

  As of this press time 13 days later, the formal answer has been referral to Minister Miliband's April 12 statement, and this. On April 21, Inner City Press put the question to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose spokesman the following day cleared this response:  "UN personnel should have freedom of movement and be treated with respect." But they are still detained as of this writing. As more answers arrive or are released we will report them on 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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