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In Asia Group, Sri Lanka Says Stands Behind Silva, Group Letter Not Agreed To

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 24 -- Two days after Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva was ruled "inappropriate" to participate as the Asia-Pacific Group's representative on the UN Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, the Asia Group met Friday behind closed doors about the controversy.

For four weeks, Inner City Press has questioned the UN Secretariat of Ban Ki-moon and diplomats from Asian countries how they could accept Silva as adviser on peacekeeping, given how he appears in Ban's own Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka, as commander of the 58th Division shelling hospitals and killing people trying to surrender.

And so on Friday afternoon Inner City Press stood outside UN Conference Room 4, posing questions to the Ambassadors who went in and out of the meeting. Then and afterward, a picture of the meeting emerged and is exclusively reported here.

  Sri Lanka, represented in the meeting by Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, Deputy Permanent Representative Shavendra Silva and other staff, wanted the Asia Group to write a letter to SAG chairperson Louise Frechette as well as to Ban Ki-moon. (Sri Lanka may also want to write to another on-the-record UN official; many have off the record condemned Silva's nomination, and Ban Ki-moon's silence.)

  Kohona reportedly said, you have to draw a line or only the small and weak will be targeted. Then he said that he had told "the capital" -- Colombo, the Rajapaksa government -- and the capital determined to stand behind Ambassador Silva.

  Kohona was chided for having "made representations" about solving the embarrassing standoff. But now he said that while those representations had been made, they weren't valid, only the Group could change its endorsement.

  Inner City Press has already reported that there was no vote on Silva, after Sri Lanka talked Saudi Arabia and Nepal, and now some say Fiji, into withdrawing their candidacy.

  Now, Inner City Press has learned that it was "Sri Lanka" that was "endorsed by the Group" on January 19, to participate in the first meeting of the SAG, held January 19 and 20, 2012 -- this according to the Asia Group's own minutes.

  Kohona has argued publicly that it was Silva who was endorsed, personally. Strangely, it was Deputy Permanent Representative Silva who negotiated with the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia on January 9 and 18. Still, after that, "Sri Lanka" -- not Silva -- "was endorsed by the Group."

  In the closed door meeting, Inner City Press has learned, Kohona asked for a decision that the Asia Group send a letter to Frechette and Ban Ki-moon.

  This was not agreed to. Rather, the chair of the Group for February, Maldives, said that there was no consensus on a letter, calling the situation a "minefield to maneuver."

Fiji, which has itself chafed when former Secretary General Kofi Annan said it might not be able to keep getting paid for sending UN peacekeepers after the coup d'etat there, spoke up for Sri Lanka, saying that there should be consultations including about sending a letter.

Kohona then shifted back and said there was no rush, there were "two months." Leaving the meeting room he told Inner City Press, "three months."

  Silva left the meeting room talking with Fiji's representative, with whom Inner City Press not infrequently converses. Silva, too, used to speak.

  As Inner City Press has told a Sri Lankan paper which has asked, it was nominating Silva to the SAG which stirred up the recent news here. I'm reliably told that External Affairs minister G.L Peiris was not in favor of Silva's nomination, but people above him were. Thus we can say: it is the Rajapaksa brothers themselves who have of late put civilians deaths in Sri Lanka back in the news, and brought Sri Lanka into some disrepute, now going back on representations and seeking support playing the "small and weak" card.

  Already, Maldives -- which suffering what is arguably its own coup d'etat during all this and was represented as chair by a junior diplomat who refused to summarize the meeting at its conclusion -- is preparing to "hand off" the issue to the Group's chair for March, the Marshall Islands. The "small and weak" indeed.

   So what of the other states in the Asia Group? We'll have more on this. Watch this site.

Footnote: numerous diplomats told Inner City Press it was "outrageous," as one of them put it, that the Sri Lankan Mission had asked and gotten UN Security to prohibit the Press from covering the February 22 meeting in 380 Madison Avenue as it covered Friday's meeting in the UN North Lawn building.

  The same Sri Lankan mission personnel were present Friday but did not try. (There were no other media organization staking out the meeting, despite some belated and opportunistic pick-ups.)

  Meanwhile Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesman inserted into Thursday briefing transcript a kneejerk defense of the exclusion of the Press, then abuptly ended the briefing. This is Ban's UN. Click here for Inner City Press' February 24 interview with Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- and consider how the UN has come to this.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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