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Sri Lanka Says UN’s Ban “Congratulates” Rajapaksa After Arrest of Fonseka, Press Crackdown

[Inner City Press, Wednesday, 10 February 2010 18:10 No Comment]

After Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa had his electoral opponent Sarath Fonseka arrested, UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon belatedly put in a call to Colombo. By the time the UN provided a requested read out of the call, the Rajapaksa administration had already publicly characterized it as a call of "congratulations," which followed Ban’s own public statement of "relief" after the election.

Mr. Ban had declined to send any UN presence to the presidential elections, and has rebuffed the recommendation by the UN’s own Special Rapporteur Philip Alston that he name an investigative panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka. So what did he now discuss with Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Inner City Press, which had asked at the UN’s noon briefings of February 9 and February 9 for Ban’s response to Fonseka’s arrest and the assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka, went to the UN Spokesperson’s office at 5 p.m. on February 9 to ask for a read out of the call. It will happening later tonight, Inner City Press was told. Can a UN read out be provided later tonight? Perhaps, was the response, it will take time to approve it.

At 11 a.m. on February 10 in a snowy New York, the UN finally issued a manicured read out of its version of the call. But the Sri Lankan government has already issued its rosy assessment, which the UN has not contradicted. The Sri Lankan government said:

Ban Ki-moon congratulates President on victory

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 – 01.00 GMT

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his outstanding victory in being elected for a second term in the recently concluded Presidential Election.

In a telephone conversation with the President today (10), the Secretary General wished him success in the continuance of his efforts to strengthen peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, with assurances of UN support for this work.

 UN's Ban appears to congratulate M. Rahapaksa, July 2009, after bloodbath on the beach 
UN’s Ban appears to congratulate M. Rahapaksa, July 2009, after bloodbath on the beach

President Rajapaksa apprized Mr. Ban Ki moon of current political developments, including the dissolution of Parliament, and the Government’s commitment to prevent divisions harmful to democracy, and conduct another peaceful election.

In discussing the issues of humanitarian assistance and development in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa informed the Secretary General that infrastructure development was the most needed, both in the liberated areas of the North and East, as well as in other parts of the country. The Government was giving priority to this and would be appreciative of assistance in this regard.

President Rajapaksa also discussed with the Secretary General the role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the tasks of both humanitarian and development work, and stated the Government’s willingness to work with foreign organizations in necessary spheres of activity, emphasizing the need for foreign NGOs to be accountable and transparent in their work, in view of previous experience in this regard.

With regard to the special development work in the North, Mr. Ban Ki-moon was told this work was handled by Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President, who was fully involved with the tasks at hand.

In discussing issues regarding Human Rights and related issues, particularly in the concluding stages of the operations to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE, the President informed the UN Secretary General that the independent committee headed by Mr. DS Wijetunge PC, was looking into the contents of the related reports, and once this Committee submitted its report, further action would be taken as considered necessary to bring about greater post-conflict reconciliation.

The UN Secretary General was told that the Government looked forward to further progress both in the economic and development spheres, with the participation of investors and other assistance from abroad.

The 25 minute telephone conversation was initiated by the UNSG’s office.

Presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa met with Ban in January 2009; Inner City Press was the only independent, non-UN media to attend the photo opportunity. While the UN has never provided a read out of that meeting, sources have said it was in preparation of what would become the bloodbath on the beach, essentially asking Ban to speak out not at all, or only belatedly, as he has.

Sri Lanka’s February 10 description of congratulation was picked up elsewhere, also without any protest or correction by the UN. A sample headline was "UN chief vows to support Rajapaksa in strengthening peace," by the PTI, Press Trust of India.

Hours later, the UN issued its own version — "to enable sleep at night," as one wag put it:


The Secretary-General spoke by telephone on Tuesday night with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, and expressed his concern about recent developments in Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General urged President Rajapaksa to keep his commitment, as agreed in the joint statement, to ensure concrete proposals for a political solution of issues with the Tamil community in the North and to ensure full accountability for any crimes against international humanitarian law or abuses of human rights. He took note of the progress in returning displaced persons to their places of origin, but added that more needs to be done in this regard.

The Secretary-General brought up the arrest of General Sarath Fonseka, and he urged the Government to respect the due process of law and guarantee the personal safety of General Fonseka.

The Secretary-General said that he looks forward to continuing his dialogue, both personally and through his Senior Officials. It was agreed that the Secretary-General would send Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka soon after the presidential inauguration later this month.

Currently, Mr. Pascoe is in North Korea, with Ban Ki-moon’s closest advisor Kim Won-soo. Mr. Kim is ostensibly the deputy chief of staff, with Vijay Nambiar occupying the Under Secretary General chief of staff position.

On both February 8 and 9, Inner City Press asked Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky if Mr. Nambiar is, officially or de facto, now in charge of the UN’s Sri Lanka policy, given reports that calls from the Rajapaksa administration to Mr. Ban were referred to Mr. Nambiar. (It concerned trying to cancel a UN press conference by Philip Alston, about summary executions by the Sri Lankan army.)

[Full Coverage]

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