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As Sri Lanka Party in Power Threatens UN Staff, Ban Stays Silent, DPR To Go

[Inner City Press, Sunday, 4 July 2010 23:37 No Comment]

The UN said it was an “individual opinion,” when Sri Lanka’s Minister for Housing and Construction Wimal Weerawansa last week called for UN staff in Colombo to be taken hostage to forestall any consideration of war crimes.

  Inner City Press inquired a second time, and the same UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said “we have received some indications that an apology might be in order… I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.”

Now, Weerawansa has said he was and is speaking for a political party that is part of the Rajapaksa coalition, the “National Freedom Front.”

  The UN hasn’t clarified or amended its obfuscation of the threat against its staff. In fact, a senior UN official tried to call the threat “Gandhian,” a sort of non-violent hostage taking. Talk about the Stockholm syndrome, one wag mused.

In fact, the UN’s hopeful or intentionally misleading statement of receiving indications – from whom? – that “an apology might… come through” was shot down the next day, with the UN on vacation:

“When asked by Daily Mirror online if he was under any pressure regarding his comment after it had created a lot of controversy, Weerawansa said there was no such pressure as the position was that of his party. ‘We should surround the UN office in Colombo and put pressure on UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon to reverse his decision to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka. I am saying this as the leader of the NFF.’”

Mr. Ban, who was spending a full eight hours in a pro-Kabila parade in Kinshasa when the first threat came in from Colombo, is now headed to Jamaica. Will he address the clarified and sharpened threat to UN staff?

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Bandula Jayasekara, threats not shown

Ban travels, but so do Sri Lankan diplomats. It was only in April that Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona invited Inner City Press to a reception to greet his incoming Deputy Bandula Jayasekara. In the Sri Lankan residence high over Second Avenue and the UN, Jayasekara told Inner City Press he was a “new school” diplomat. Indeed.

Less than a month later, Jayasekara began hand delivering threatening and repetitive letters to Inner City Press. The first — non threatening, tied to a quote and therefore the only one we published – read as follows:

From: PA2DPR
To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress.com
Date: Mon, May 10, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Report, Inner City Press

Dear Sir, Pl. find attached, a letter addressed to you by Mr. Bandula Jayasekara, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka.

Hemantha Perera, PA to DPR

10th May, 2010

Ref. Media/2010

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Reporter
Inner City Press, Room: S-453A [sic]
UN Headquarters, New York N.Y. 10017

Dear Sir,

This refers to the question posed by you to Mr. Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for UNSG at the UN daily noon briefing held on 7.5.2010 “In the last 24 hours the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said that anyone that would seek to testify about war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government should be put to death. It’s a capital offence and it’s treason”.

We have inquired into this matter and Mr. Rajapaksa has not, I repeat not, made such a statement. Your question is not based on fact, and is patently mischievous, misleading and incorrect.

We kindly request you to reproduce this letter for the sake of fair play. As a man of integrity, in the media, you should not mislead the people who read your blog. You should not abuse the position of blogging privilege. I sincerely hope you would uphold the ethics of blogging.

Thank you,

Bandula Jayasekara
Deputy Permanent Representative

There was no problem with publishing the letter — the goal of the letter and its cc to a journalists’ group were not clear — but there was and is equally no problem with providing the basis of the question: it was on the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence’s own web site.

Now comes word that Jayasekara is being recalled to Colombo. We hardly knew ye… Kohona, a fixture on the UN social scene, has not been seen for weeks, ever since his ironic service on a three person panel investigating possible war crimes in what the UN calls Western Asia. At a recent reception for Colombia, Sri Lanka’s number three wandered around. Inner City Press greeted him, but he did not respond. So much for diplomacy. Watch this site.

From the UN’s June 30 transcript:

Inner City Press: in Sri Lanka the Minister for Housing and Construction, Wimal Weerawansa, has been quoted as saying, urging the, under the headline “Take UN Lanka staff hostage”, he said, urging the public to surround the UN office in Sri Lanka and trap the staff inside with regard to the panel and any consideration of war crimes in the country. First of all, what’s the UN’s response to a Government minister saying to keep UN staff hostage, what preparations are being made and what’s your response to it?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, in terms of that, on the various levels. First of all, on the security level, our security officials are aware of these remarks. They would certainly try to check whether this official was quoted correctly and what he meant by that. The Government has assured us this is an individual opinion

[Full Coverage]

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