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As Sri Lanka Letter to UN, Press Blurs Silva Role in PoE Report, UN Omits to Check

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 -- For two weeks Inner City Press has covered the selection to the UN "Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations" of Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva, whose Division 58 is named in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Panel of Experts' report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

  Late on February 9, after Inner City Press published brief questions and answers with Silva, Sri Lankan Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona and Ban himself, the Sri Lankan Mission sent a letter to Inner City Press, with copies to Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky and the President of the UN Correspondents' Association.

  These cc's may be as interesting as the letter itself. We publish the letter in full, here, and respond to it below.

   The Sri Lankan mission takes issue with Inner City Press' citation to Ban's Panel of Experts report, writing that

"Ambassador Shavendra Silva pointed out during UNCA's screening of 'Lies agreed upon,' that the POE report had inaccurately represented the facts with regard to the Divisions involved. Nowhere in paragraph 73 and 90 of the Report does it make any reference to his own Division being responsible for shelling the No Zones or the PTK hospital."

  The simplest rebuttal is simply to example the Panel of Experts report itself, online, which we will now quote from:

 In Paragraph 62, Silva appears: "six major battalions were active in the final stages of the war, including... the 58th Division (commanded by Brigadier Shavendra Silva)." That is Silva's Division.

  Here's from Paragraphs 90 through 92 of Ban's Panel of Experts report:

90. Fighting in the area intensified as part of the expressed efforts by the 55th and 58th Divisions to capture PTK by 4 February... in the week between 29 January and 4 February, PTK hospital was hit every day by MBRLs and other artillery, taking at least nine direct hits. A number of patients inside the hospital, most of them already injured, were killed, as were several staff members. Even the operating theatre was hit. Two ICRC international delegates were in the hospital when it was shelled on 4 February 2009. The shelling was coming from SLA positions.

92. The GPS coordinates of PTK hospital were well known to the SLA, and the hospital was clearly marked with emblems easily visible to UAVs. On 1 February 2009, the ICRC issued a public statement emphasizing that "[w]ounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities are all protected by international humanitarian law. Under no circumstance may they be directly attacked."

  That is a war crime, and it is attributed in Ban's Panel of Experts report to Silva's 58th Division, as well as the 55th. That, it seems, is the Sri Lankan mission's defense: that war crimes were committed by other Divisions (too). Fine, then: the reference to Paragraph 90 should be to 90-92, with 62 as the intro to Silva.

  Likewise, the Sri Lankan mission crows that a lawsuit against Silva was dismissed without stating that it was strictly on grounds of diplomatic immunity: that Silva is now an Ambassador to the UN. The decision by Judge Oetken concludes:

"Notwithstanding the gravity of the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this case, the diplomatic immunity mandated by 22 U.S.C. § 254d precludes this Court from considering the merits of their claims against Silva, at least while he is cloaked with immunity as a United Nations representative."

  On the killing of surrenderees, the Sri Lankan mission takes issue with the inference Ban's Panel of Experts draws:

2. The “White Flag” incident

170. Various reports have alleged that the political leadership of the LTTE and their dependants were executed when they surrendered to the SLA.[81] In the very final days of the war, the head of the LTTE political wing, Nadesan, and the head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat, Pulidevan, were in regular communication with various interlocutors to negotiate a surrender. They were reportedly with a group of around 300 civilians. The LTTE political leadership was initially reluctant to agree to an unconditional surrender, but as the SLA closed in on the group in their final hideout, Nadesan and Pulidevan, and possibly Colonel Ramesh, were prepared to surrender unconditionally. This intention was communicated to officials of the United Nations and of the Governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to representatives of the ICRC and others. It was also conveyed through intermediaries to Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and senior officers in the SLA.

171. Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route indicated by Basil Rajapaksa. Requests by the LTTE for a third party to be present at the point of surrender were not granted. Around 6.30 a.m. on 18 May 2009, Nadesan and Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Colonel Ramesh followed behind them, with another group. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead. Subsequently, the Government gave several different accounts of the incident. While there is little information on the circumstances of their death, the Panel believes that the LTTE leadership intended to surrender.

  The (false) assurances "conveyed by intermediaries" were conveyed through Ban Ki-moon's own chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, who has declined numerous requests from the Press to answer questions about his role. Kohona, too, the head of Sri Lanka's mission, is named in the paragraphs above.

  (Inner City Press was already the first to report that the reference to "Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa" was an error by the UN.)

   Now it must be stated, with all due respect but to provide context to the cc's, that it is not disputed that Kohona had a prior financial relationship with the President of UNCA; and that Ban Ki-moon's own chief of staff is at least a witness to the above-described war crime.

  What's strange is that Inner City Press has previously, including in the Q&A after UNCA screened in UN, without the normal approval process the government's "Lies Agreed To" as a rebuttal to a documentary that was NOT screened inside the UN, asked Silva about war crimes, and published all his answers.

   But only now does the Sri Lankan mission write to Ban's spokesman and UNCA, not only the President with whom PR Kohona has a previously financial relationship, but also other UNCA members, who in turn forwarded it more widely.  Is the heat on?

Ban & Silva, Kohona back to camera, Mission letter not yet shown (c) MRLee

On February 10, after received the above-quoted letter at 11 pm the night before, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about letters received, as partially recorded in the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: I wish I had been able to follow this up with Mr. Ladsous when asked about this selection of Shavendra Silva, who is inthe Secretary-General’s report on Sri Lanka as the head of a division, said that 'the matter is being considered further.' I wasn’t clear what that meant by the Secretariat, or by the Asia Group or by Sri Lanka. I wanted to know if you can find out what that is, and also I have been at least CCed on a number of letters that have been addressed to the Secretary-General about this issue, of taking what people seem to see as an alleged war criminal and making him an adviser, or selecting him or allowing him to be selected, and I wanted to know how many letters have you received and is it being reconsidered, where does this stand?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Secretary-General himself told you, as you know, that this is a decision by Member States. At this point, that is the end of the story, okay.

Inner City Press: So there is no effort by the Secretariat, in any way, to speak to the Asia Group or to the country of Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I also heard what Mr. Ladsous said, the Under-Secretary-General, as I was sitting right next to him..

  Then, on camera, Nesirky said he would inquire into what this meant, saying clearly "and I'll check if there's anything further on that." But that is not in the UN's transcript. Watch video, here at Minute 15:58, and watch this site.

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

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