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In DC, Peiris of Sri Lanka Shows Not Ready for Prime Time, Hillary Clinton to Hear War Crimes Defense

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 27 -- Now that Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris has turned tail and run out of the National Press Club without speaking or offering any explanation, the world can see what Inner City Press has diagnosed since the Peiris visit began over last weekend: he is not ready for prime time.

At the UN, rather than hold an open press conference as the foreign ministers of such countries as Georgia and Iran and Indonesia do, the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN invited specific individual journalists, many of whom had never written about Sri Lanka, to meet and even wine and dine with Peiris.

  Inner City Press sent a request to the Mission to pose questions to Peiris, about reports of war crimes by the Rajapaksa government he represents. A Mission staffer said the decisions were being made by the Deputy Permanent Representative, who since arriving in New York from Canada had sent Inner City Press a series of amateurism letters meant to intimidate, often minutes before the UN's daily press conference.

Since this DPR has refused to answer any of the factual questions sent to him, Inner City Press re-directed its request to interview Peiris to Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, who did not reply. One reporter leaving the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Sunday night after meeting with Peiris and Kohona described Peiris as making a war crimes defense. But why not make it publicly?

The next day, after Peiris, Kohona and entourage met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- a meeting Inner City Press was banned from photographing -- Inner City Press asked the exiting Peiris to describe the meeting. He refused.

UN's Ban and G.L. Peiris, who ran from the press, in NY and now DC

  Now, down in Washington, Peiris appears at the National Press Club at 10, supposed to speak - but walked out. Neither the ministry nor the NPC could explain. We can; not ready for prime time.

Footnote: Kohona himself is named, by Nambiar in a 13 minute filmed interview, as having given assurances that surrendering LTTE leaders, if they waved the white flag, would be treated like normal prisoners of war. They were, in fact, killed, making Kohona and Nambiar persons of interest in any investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka. How long either Nambiar or Kohona will now stay in their post remains to be seen. Watch this site.

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In Waldorf, Peiris and Kohona of Sri Lanka Spin Selectively, War Crimes Defense Tour Begins Behind Closed Doors

By Matthew Russell Lee

WALDORF ASTORIA, May 23 -- Sri Lanka's war crimes defense tour has begun. Sunday evening in Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria hotel, new Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris held interviews with selected reporters in the presence of the country's Permanent Representative to the UN, Palitha Kohona.

  One reporter upon leaving his interview with Peiris told Inner City Press, "Well, he made his defense."

  Often when foreign ministers or even heads of state come to the UN in New York, they hold press conferences open to all media. At such recent events, Inner City Press has put questions as simply two examples to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Georgia's foreign minister. Perhaps, some wondered, G.L. Peiris is not ready for prime time?

  Despite having covered Sri Lanka more closely than any other correspondent at the UN for the last two years, when Inner City made a formal request to the Sri Lankan Mission, then directly to Palitha Kohona, to pose questions to Minister Peiris, the requests were neither granted nor even responded to.

  Rather, several journalists who have never written about Sri Lanka much less seen the internment camps at Vavuniya were invited, some to be wined and dined and told that all is well in Sri Lanka. There is more to be said on this.

GL Peiris, brown shirt, brown tie, not ready for prime time?

  Peiris is slated to meet with UN Secretary General on May 24, then fly to Washington. He will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He will also meet, in New York or Washington, with US Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice.

When Inner City Press sought clarification from the US Mission of Ambassador Rice's praise of Mahinda Rajapaksa's "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" which includes his Kohona's predecessor Ambassador Palihakkara, who defended the "bloodbath on the beach" in real time, none was received for two days, until Inner City Press managed to ask the question at a stake out.

In the interim, Inner City Press had sought clarification from Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake. We can now report that his office called back and said he declined to speak on the matter, to continue to seek answers either from "US UN" -- the Mission -- or the State Department's war crimes office. Watch this space.

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Sri Lanka's Peiris to Meet Ban, Nambiar and Select Press, War Crimes and Internment Camp Questions Not Taken

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 22 -- Seventy eight days have passed since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced he would name a panel of experts to advise him on war crimes in Sri Lanka. Still not a single panel member has been named. Now new Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs Professor G.L. Peiris is flying to New York to meet with Ban and his main adviser on Sri Lanka, Vijay Nambiar.

  Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN began inviting select journalists, most of whom never wrote about last year's bloodbath on the beach or anything else about the Island, to interview wine and dine with Mr. Peiris. They are to meet at the Waldorf=Astoria.

  Inner City Press, which covers Sri Lanka including accompanying Ban and Nambiar on what was dubbed their "victory tour" to the Vavuniya camps in May 2009, put in a formal request to the Sri Lankan Mission to be able to pose questions to Minister Peiris.

  There has been no written response, but at Buddhist event held May 21 in the UN's new North Lawn building, a staff member from the Sri Lankan mission shook her head and said "it is all up to the DPR." Inner City Press asked that its request to pose questions be conveyed to Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, who has repeatedly claimed to be open to the press. Still no response has been received.

  One wonders if the reported request to the UN by Peiris predecessor, former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, for a job for his son is still standing...

Peiris.. about Paris, India relations portfolio not shown

  Peiris is also slated to meet with both US Permanent Representative Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Upon begin named minister, Peiris declined to even set any time table for the resettlement of Tamils in the IDP camps the funding of which by the UN the International Crisis Group has criticized. Will Rice or Clinton raise even this issue? Watch this site.

Footnote: Despite Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky saying on May 17 that the UN would be responding to and comment on the ICG report which called for an international investigation of the UN's own role in pulling out of Killinochchi, ineffectively calling for a ceasefire and funding internment camps, the entire week went by without any answers.

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As Sri Lanka Names Its Own Palihakkara as Investigator, UN Panel Would Not Look at UN's Role in War Crimes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 19 -- As witnesses testify that orders to execute prisoners came from the top of Sri Lanka's government, the UN on Wednesday couldn't confirm it is even following the issue. Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the much publicized report on UK Channel 4. "I would have to check with colleagues if they are aware" of the report, Nesirky said.

Inner City Press asked if the panel that Ban said ten and a half weeks ago would be named without delay would have jurisdiction to look into the UN's own role, described by the International Crisis Group, in war crimes in Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 11:12.

  No, Nesirky in essence replied. He said the panel would only "advise the Secretary General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry in Sri Lanka would meet normal standards." Thus, the delayed Ban panel would not, even if named, be responsive to the calls for investigation made by ICG, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others.

  On BBC, Louise Arbour of ICG said the government violated the laws of war by blurring the line between combatants and civilians, and that its killings of civilians were not accidents. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Number One Ambassador to the UN who is apparently letting his Number Two run wild or play bad cop, said he had read the ICG report -- the UN has apparently not finished it -- but that any outside, independent investigation would be "colonial and paternalistic."

  But how could a panel now named by Mahinda Rajapaksa investigate war crimes claims made against his own brother? On the panel is Kohona's predecessor as Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, who defended the blood bath on the beach as it took loomed and took place. See video here (March 26), here (April 22, and Inner City Press' Q&A report), and here (June 5).

   Would the UN accept, for example, Sudan's UN Ambassador investigating claims against Omar al-Bashir?

UN's Ban and
Palihakkara- credible investigation not shown

  Against this backdrop, Nesirky has in two days not provided any of the answers he promised on Monday, including how much the UN spent on Sri Lanka's internment camps, and with what safeguards if any. There has still been no response from the IRIN or Ban's office to what's described as censorship of the ICG report by the UN's IRIN news service.

From the UN's May 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask, there is a report since our last interchange on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, citing senior military commanders, that there were orders from the top to kill surrendering soldiers or hardline elements of the Tamil Tigers, saying these orders came from the top, that “we were to leave no one alive”. What I am wondering is, in light of this still either delayed for 10 and a half weeks — however you characterize it — appointing of a panel to advise Ban Ki-moon on accountability in Sri Lanka, are they aware of this report? Does it make it go faster, and would that panel have jurisdiction to advise the Secretary-General on the UN’s own role in, as we discussed, leaving Kilinochi, an ineffective call for a ceasefire, and funding internment camps as ICG [International Crisis Group] has alleged?

Spokesperson: On the specific news report that you are referring to on Channel 4, I would have to check with colleagues whether they are aware of it. I do not know the answer to that right now. On the broader question, the Panel of Experts will have the role to advise the Secretary-General on what the standards are for a credible domestic investigation or inquiry. In other words, to address the question of accountability that has been discussed very often. So it is a very specific aim, to advise the Secretary-General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry — meaning in Sri Lanka — would meet normal standards, widely-held standards, for that kind of investigation. So it is fairly specific.

Inner City Press: And if you don’t mind, since on Monday, I think, you had said that the Secretariat was going study this International Crisis Group report, which actually made some allegations or called for an international inquiry into the UN’s own conduct. What is the UN’s response to that? Do they think that is appropriate? Given that this Panel would not even do that if named, what is the UN’s response to Louise Arbour and the ICG’s call for an inquiry into the UN’s own actions in this matter?

Spokesperson Nesirky: As I mentioned, and as you have pointed out, we said that it is being studied in some detail and that remains the case.

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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