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UN Downplays Sri Lanka Hostage Taking of its Staff, Ban Has Not Called Rajapaksa

Jul 6, 2010 9:42:27 PM- transcurrents.com

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 6 -- The UN continued running scared of Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa, even after its staff in Colombo were held hostage by a mob led by a minister in Rajapaksa's government, Wimal Weerawansa.

Inner City Press asked the Associate Spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Farhan Haq, what he made of Weerawansa's cell phone call to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after which police pulled back and allowed the mob to continue to trap UN staff.

Haq did not dispute or deny the call, responding rather that the “bottom line” was that late in the day, staff were able to leave, while the mob remained in front of the UN building.

While Haq repeated spoke of contacts with and assurances from “officials to the highest level,” the highest he listed was the (non-Rajapaksa) Prime Minister speaking with the UN's local representative Neil Buhne.

Will Ban Ki-moon himself, Inner City Press asked, be speaking with Mahinda Rajapaksa? “At this stage I don't have anything to say about the Secretary General making any such calls,” Haq replied.

Why not? Ban has returned from Montego Bay, Jamaica. At 10:30 on Tuesday he had a meeting with the head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, then nothing listed until 2:50 p.m..

Is is that hostage taking of UN staff is not important enough? When it takes place in Sri Lanka?

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- When a government's minister openly urges that UN staff members be taken hostage, what does the UN say? If the country were for example Sudan, the UN would immediately denounce it. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon takes a different approach to Sri Lanka.

At first this was, sources in the Ban administration said, due to Ban's contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa back when Ban was South Korean foreign minister. Now added to Ban's reticence is the pro-Rajapaksa positions of Russia and China, either of which could veto a second term for Ban.

And so we have the absurd result of Ban's spokespeople excusing the hostage taking call by Sri Lankan minister Wimal Weerawansa. Inner City Press asked, and was told by the UN spokespeople that perhaps he had been misquoted. Then that, although a government minister, he had been speaking in his individual and not governmental capacity. Oh that Stanley McChrystal could get away with that one, mused one wag.

Alongside, and now views as related, there was the lost in translation claim, in which a senior UN official from the region claimed that Weerawansa's call was one for Gandhian non violence.

Suddenly the Spokesperson's Office reference to misquoting made more sense: if a senior UN official, who inacts with the Spokesperson's office, made the claim that Weerawansa's words were Gandhian, suddenly the later claim that he had been misquoted -- or mistranslated -- makes more sense. But it says much about the advice Ban is receiving.

In 2009, more than one UN staff member was grabbed up by the government, amid claims of torture. Many more UN staff languished in the internment camps at Vavuniya, with the UN saying nothing about them until exposed. If Sudan grabbed UN staff, Ban and the UN would scream. This is why talk from Colombo about UN double standards is so ironic.

We can add to this that a political arm of the Secretariat, not directly in Ban's office or even floor of the UN's North Lawn building, has told closed door meetings they were against the formation of the three person panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying it would reduce the UN's “leverage.” Leverage for what?

On July 2, Inner City Press revisited the issue with UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: You’d said earlier in the week there was this idea, this quote by Wemal Weerawansa, that the UN House there should be surrounded and staff kept in until Mr. Ban cancels the panel and whatnot. You’d said that you were checking to see whether he was somehow misquoted. Were you able to determine whether this minister was misquoted? And can you explain how a minister can make, if he is not misquoted, make such a statement and you characterize it as an individual statement when the person is still a Government official?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the Government has assured us that these views did not reflect the policy of the Government. Certainly there have been also no crowds outside of the UN House, which is a relief. Beyond that, we have received some indications that an apology might be in order, and we’ll see whether there is any sort of clarification or apology coming from the Government. I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.

The next day, still no word on apology. One seems unlikely, as the Rajapaksa also let expire a July 1 deadline from the European Union on the GPS Plus trade concession. Now a similar status is under review in the U.S., in response to a petition from the AFL-CIO.

One question is how far China and Russia will in fact go for Sri Lanka. And the position of Japan. These are fears expressed by Ban administration insiders.

Courtesy: Inner City Press

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