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On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Fonseka, Panel Still Not Started, Ban Book In Flux, Lee Kuan Yew Author Snubbed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 13 -- As in Sri Lanka the government's “Lessons Learnt” panel began, with a focus not on the civilians killed in 2009 but on how a ceasefire earlier broke down, Inner City Press on Friday asked UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky if the UN had any comment on Sri Lanka's or its panel, or on the court martial of former General Sarath Fonseka, whose offer to testify about war crimes the UN has apparently turned down. Video here, from Minute 13:04.

  Mr. Nesirky said the UN has no “new comment” on Fonseka, but had earlier urged due process. That was before the process and conviction, which Fonseka has called a sham.

  In the interim, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was burned in effigy during a blockade of the UN compound in Colombo led by government minister Wimal Weerawansa. Since then, the UN has said and done almost nothing.

  Inner City Press asked whether Ban's panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka has finally begun its work, triggering the start of the four month clock to turn in a report. Nesirky replied that he couldn't “say when” the panel will start.

  In fact, the reason being offered to Inner City Press is the illness of the spouse of one of the three panel members.

  The week's noon briefings were full of questions about author Tom Plate's statement that he will profile Ban Ki-moon as the third in his series of “Giants of Asia.”

UN's Ban unfocused in Sri Lanka, panel's start and book not shown

  At an August 10 book party near the United Nations, Plate read from his book about Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew, who is quoted on page 55 of the book saying the

example is Sri Lanka. It is not a happy, united country. Yes, they [the majority Sinhalese government] have beaten the Tamil Tigers this time, but the Sinhalese who are less capable are putting down a minority of Jaffna Tamils who are more capable. They were squeezing them out. That's why the Tamils rebelled. But I do not see them ethnic cleansing all two million plus Jaffna Tamils. The Jaffna Tamils have been in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhalese...[referring to Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa] 'I've read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind.'”

  Plate was asked about this section of the book, and said that it was difficult to keep it in. Afterward, Inner City Press asked Plate to explain: how had wanted the section to come out? Of all that he said Tuesday night, this was the only time that Plate asked to go off the record. We respected that, just as we respected the request to omit from coverage the presence of at least one individual and entourage.

  But later in the week, Ban's spokesman Nesirky repeatedly insisted that Ban has made no commitment to Plate nor to anyone else for such a profile. Since Plate unequivocally said that Ban will be the third Giant of Asia, in Inner City Press' presence and in writing, Inner City Press asked Friday if there was some meaning of the word “commitment” that it was missing.

  Nesirky responded that like any piece of information, it could change. Video here, from Minute 15:48. Watch this site.

* * *

At UN, Sri Lanka Panel's 4 Months Has Not Begun, Ban Gives In to Protest?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 3 -- After Sri Lanka's May 2009 “bloodbath on the beach” which killed thousands of civilians, it took UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon more than a year to name a three person Panel of Experts to merely offer advice on accountability.

  On August 2, two months after the assault on the Gaza flotilla which killed eight civilians on the ship, Ban launches a four person Panel of Inquiry, stating that its work formally started August 10, with a first report in mid September, before the UN's annual General Debate.

Inner City Press on August 2 asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the contrast between the two panels, the speed with which Ban formed them, and the strangely narrow scope of his Sri Lanka panel:

Inner City Press: I didn’t know we were going to get into comparative panels. But following up on the Bhutto discussion, some have wondered about comparing panels, comparing this to the Sir Lanka panel, which is three people instead of four.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Why did I think you were going to go there?

Inner City Press: Yeah, yeah. The question is, I guess, it hasn’t started yet, due to staffing, I’m told. And so I wonder how can you explain the difference of the speed — I mean, the speed should be, in all cases, I would assume — what would you say that to those who say it took a year to name one in Sri Lanka and it still hasn’t begun due to some staffing issues, whereas this one you’ve said when it’ll start, when it’ll report…

Spokesperson: You’re saying there are staffing issues; I have not. And, that’s the first… [talkover]. The first thing is, as you know, they [the Sri Lanka panel] have already met, and they are looking at exactly how they will work. They have a Chief of Staff, we’ve already named him, as you know. That person is already working with the three experts. So, that’s the first thing. The second thing is, in all of these cases, where you’re setting up an inquiry, a panel of experts, or whatever else you want to call it, this involves careful groundwork and diplomacy. And, this can take, in some cases, a long time; in some cases, it can take less time. You can’t compare one to another. This is how diplomacy works.

So if a country complains loudly enough, leading up to blocking UN staff inside their building, then Ban Ki-moon's UN will move slowly and cautiously on war crimes, apparently. What is the message to countries like Sudan and Myanmar?

Colombo, June 7, 2010: blocking UN staff leads to delay, start of 4 mo clock not shown

  Sudan appears to have already learned the lesson: they have announced that UN staff in Darfur must now give prior notice before traveling the road, and will have their bags searched in the airport.

As to the still unclear Sri Lanka panel timing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: has the four-month clock started? When did it start?

Spokesperson: As we’ve said, you have the experts and you have the support team. The support team is working in the background. The experts will be meeting again in the coming weeks, and that is part of the process, part of their work as they’ve been mandated to do so by the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: When does the four-month clock start?

Spokesperson: I’ll let you know. So, I’m happy to take any other questions on this, but is this on the panel?

Ban was very proud of his Gaza panel, going so far as to interview himself -- or have UN Radio do it - in a mock “stakeout” in his North Lawn building office. Then he flew off to Japan.

Following Inner City Press' report that Mahinda Rajapaksa is listed as Sri Lanka's speaker in September's general debate, unprompted letters copied to Inner City Press have invited Ban's panel's three members to be sure to interview Rajapaksa at that time. We'll see.

Footnote: over the weekend, we noted that the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN's embattled and outgoing Deputy Permanent Representative might be providing some views early this week. He had formally invited Inner City Press to “lunch at the Sri Lankan restaurant” on August 2.

  But that morning, the Mission wrote to Inner City Press saying the DPR was “indisposed” and unable to attend, that it might be rescheduled. As it happens, the PR is throwing a farewell to his deputy on August 3, at a non-Sri Lankan restaurant on Third Avenue by the UN and Mission. To this, Inner City Press has yet to be included among the invitees. Interesting list that must be. 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.

* * *

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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