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In Sri Lanka, IDPs Given Passes, NGOs Told Not to Complain to UN, Election Games

[Inner City Press, Tuesday, 24 November 2009 08:35 No Comment]

 UN's Ban and Basil Rajapaksa in January 2009, aftermath not shown Sri Lanka’a Rajapaksa administration, facing a challenge from military leader Sarath Fonseka, announced "freedom of movement" for those interned in the Vavuniya camps, starting December 1, in the run up to snap elections now set for January.

The UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on November 21 immediately issued a statement praising the government’s announcement, and on November 23 his top humanitarian envoy John Holmes came to the UN briefing room to in essence add to the praise.

Despite reports to the contrary from non governmental organizations on the ground, Holmes said there’s no ban on movement except for safety, "physical safety." Inner City Press asked about statements by Oxfam in Sri Lanka that even "freedom of movement" will involve a system of passes and only limited numbers of days outside the camps. Video here, from Minute 35:42.

Holmes replied that people will be able to leave for "days at a time," saying this "looks like freedom of movement as most would define it." But signing in and out of a camp surrounded by barbed wire, with any limitation on the number of days out, is not how many define freedom of movement.

Inner City Press asked Holmes about a letter from the government of Mannar to NGOs, telling them to suspend any operation not approved by the Presidential Task Force headed by presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa. Holmes shrugged that the PTF is in charge.

Holmes called any connection between the announcement, made just after Fonseka left the military and was reputedly drafted into running and two days before Mahinda Rajapaksa called for snap election in January, "speculative," while he said that the efficacy of the UN’s pushing for the IDPs was surely a factor in the announcement.

A large international NGO working in Sri Lanka was told by Basil Rajapaksa to deal only with the government, and to stop complaining to the UN. Inner City Press asked Holmes about this, and he said he is "not sure that is a hugely important point."

  But to some, a government telling NGOs not to complain to the UN is not a small thing.

[Full Coverage]

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