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UN office in Sri Lanka shut over hardliners protest

[Reuters, Thursday, 8 July 2010 02:56 No Comment]

The United Nations in Sri Lanka closed on Wednesday when a hardline presidential ally led a protest outside for a second day, vowing to stay until Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dissolves a war crimes panel.

On Tuesday, police clashed with protesters led by Engineering Services and Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa, after they stopped officers from escorting trapped U.N. staff out of the building in the capital, Colombo. [nSGE6650GC]

Weerawansa, who holds enough sway with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government that he was able to get the police intervention stopped on Tuesday, has pledged that supporters will hold a hunger strike unless the world body rescinds the panel.

"By tomorrow if we do not get a favourable answer, a parliamentarian will also join this fast unto death campaign and we are asking all Sri Lankans abroad to stage protests in front of U.N. offices all over the world," Weerawansa told reporters.

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Staff at the U.N. office did not go there on Wednesday.

"The office did not work today but we hope it will tomorrow," U.N. Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne told Reuters.

The government strongly objected to Ban’s June 22 appointment of a three-member panel to advise him if war crimes were committed at the end of Sri Lanka’s 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists, which government troops won in May 2009.

However, the government said it had been mindful of both its obligations to protect the United Nations as a diplomatic institution, and the democratic rights of the demonstrators.

"The government understands that those who are demonstrating intend to continue with their protest," it said in a statement. "At the same time, the freedom of entry and exit to and from the complex for authorised personnel will remain constant."

Sri Lanka views the panel as a violation of its sovereignty and a hypocritical application of double standards by Western governments engaged in the war on terror. It also is concerned it is a precursor to full-blown investigation. [nN22526612]

Ban insists the panel is merely a resource to help Sri Lanka reconcile after thousands of Tamil civilians died in the war’s final months. Sri Lanka’s government, led by the Sinhalese ethnic majority, says the casualty figures are hugely inflated.

Rights groups took advantage of the anniversary of the war’s end to renew a push for an international probe into what they say are tens of thousands of civilian deaths, and Sri Lanka is under pressure from the West over its rights record.

The government denies soldiers committed any crimes.

[Full Coverage]

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