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Amid Death in Sri Lanka, UN Wedding in New York, Ban's Visit Delay Questioned

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- As in Sri Lanka Saturday bombs rained down on the supposed Safe Zone, in New York UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon prepared to celebrate the wedding of his son, Ban Woo-hyun. The ceremony was kept secret. South Korean media quoted an unnamed Ban aide that “Ban may have thought that an ostentatious wedding party for his son would be inappropriate.”

  Well, yes. Earlier in the week, in the run-up to what even the UN had predicted as a “bloodbath on the beach” in Northern Sri Lanka, Ban had been invited to visit the country. His spokesperson Michele Montas said that if Ban thought it would save civilian lives, he would go. Inner City Press, having been told by well-placed Security Council sources that Ban would not be going in the coming days for scheduling reasons, inquired into this at two separate UN noon briefings and otherwise.

   “Scheduling is a separate matter,” Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq insisted. A senior Ban political adviser told Inner City Press on the night of May 8 that, while he had been told to stop speaking to the Press, Ban would go if he thought it would save “even a single life.”

   The Korea Herald also quoted the anonymous aide that Mr. Ban “could also have been burdened by a frequent mentioning of him as one of South Korea's next presidential candidates." A Security Council diplomat, speaking Monday morning as the UN confirmed at least 400 civilians killed over the weekend including over 100 children, told Inner City Press that perhaps it would be good for the UN for Ban to move on.

  When Inner City Press pointed out that weddings like this are planned months in advance and are hard to reschedule, the diplomat countered that Ban never should have claimed he would go if it would save a life.

UN's Ban beams in Malta earlier this year, Sri Lanka bloodbath not shown

  “Had he gone this weekend, the government wouldn't have bombed so freely,” the diplomat said, going on to wonder aloud if the Sri Lankan government may have known of the Bans quiet wedding plans.

   Last month, as the pace of civilian death spiked up, Ban sent his titular chief of staff Vijay Nambiar to Colombo, ostensibly to request a “humanitarian pause.” Neither Ban nor Nambiar, who has yet to speak to the Press, have called for a cease-fire, nor have they explained why not.

  While Ban claimed that Nambiar had won a commitment from the government to allow a UN humanitarian assessment team into the conflict zone, its members have yet to be named, much less be allowed anywhere near the zone of death.

   At the time, many questioned the wisdom of sending Nambiar, the highest ranking Indian in the UN system, as the envoy to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government has spoken of extraditing the founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to India, to stand charges for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in the 1990s.

  Recently Vijay Nambiar's brother Satish, a former Indian general and consultant to the Sri Lankan government, was quoted on the Sri Lankan military's web page praising the Army's and its commander's conduct of the war in the north, despite all the civilians killed. It is, the diplomat said bitterly, all a family affair.

 On Thursday May 7, Inner City Press asked Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about this invitation that’s been made to the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka. First I wanted to ask if on Monday when he met with the Ambassador of Japan, whether he was briefed on a visit by Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi to Sri Lanka and was urged by Japan that he should take this visit. And I also wanted to know whether he would be in New York 11 May for the Middle East debate, and 15 May to meet with the Chinese diplomats, that in fact this is one reason that he is considering not going, as I have been told by senior Secretariat staff.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we don’t announce the trips of the Secretary-General until they are close to occurring. And in that regard, I don’t have anything to announce about a trip to Sri Lanka at this stage. At the same time, as Michèle told you yesterday, and is still true for today, if the Secretary-General believes that visiting Sri Lanka can have an impact in terms of saving lives there, he will certainly try to go. So he is considering that. But part of what he is studying is what the impact of a potential trip would be.

Inner City Press: But if he had that belief, that would be without regard to attending the 11 May Middle East thing or the 15 May meeting with the Chinese diplomats? I am told that’s a major factor in his planning.

Associate Spokesperson: Scheduling is a separate issue. What we’re talking about is the decision of whether or not to go. And certainly if he can make a difference and can save civilian lives, which is what his priority has been on this case, then he will go. At present, we don’t have anything to announce at all in this regard, though.

Question: Just one last one on that. I wanted to know, can you at least confirm that he met with Ambassador Takasu on Monday in his office inside the Security Council? Can you give a read-out of that meeting and say why it wasn’t on his public schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: I can confirm that he met with the Permanent Representative of Japan. He did that, yes. It was in his office in the Security Council. We don’t provide readouts of meetings with ambassadors.

Question: And why wasn’t it on the schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: It came up all of a sudden when he had a bit of free time in between other appointments on a fairly hectic day.

  While Ban Ki-moon is working on his issues as a trip to Manama, Bahrain, after a news-less trip to Malta, the killing of civilians accelerates in Sri Lanka. On Friday May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:

Inner City Press: On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking? In the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.

   What Ban said did not involve calling for a cease-fire, did not respond to the invitation to visit Sri Lanka, or the accelerating rate of civilians death over the weekend, during which no statement issued about Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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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