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UN ‘could have prevented’ civilian deaths


Gorden Weiss says the UN should have exerted pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop attacks on civilians
The United Nations should have done more to prevent civilian casualties at the last stage of the war in Sri Lanka, a former UN spokesman said.

Gorden Weiss, the UN spokesman in Colombo during the peak of the conflict, said the UN should have exerted pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop attacks on civilians.

“I believe that the UN should have used greater pressure in order to assuage the kind of assaults that it seems was made on civilians,” he told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.

“Certainly, casualty figures from a part of that armoury.”

The report by the UN expert panel appointed by the secretary general, leaked by The Island newspaper, has made highly serious accusations against the Sri Lanka military, as well as the Tamil Tigers.

It has found “credible allegations” in five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the government.

“Killing of civilians through widespread shelling; (ii) Shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects; (iii) Denial of humanitarian assistance; (iv) Human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, including both IDPs and suspected LTTE cadre; and (v) Human rights violations outside the conflict zone, including against the media and other critics of the Government,” the report said.

India ‘was aware’
Mr Weiss says he “completely agree” with the panel’s findings.

However, the UN was not in a position to stop the final assault against the Tamil Tigers apart from trying to minimise civilian casualties, according to Gordon Weiss.

The former UN spokesman said the Indian government which wanted to “see the Tamil Tigers destroyed” was “fully aware” of the real situation in the battle zone, including the civilian casualties.

“I believe that Indians were aware of the civilian casualties that were happening, because they had pretty good intelligence inside the siege zone.”

He admitted that Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, made an agreement between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka authorities to arrange the surrender of senior Tamil Tiger leaders including B Nadesan and Pulithevan.

White flag surrender

“That surrender happened and those people were allegedly executed,” Mr Weiss told BBC Sandeshaya.

“I think there was an inducement by the Sri Lanka government for the remaining Tiger leadership to surrender.”

Vijay Nambiar (R) with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (file photo)
Mr Weiss says Mr Nambiar arranged the surrender of senior LTTE leaders to the Govt

The Sri Lanka government is accused of killing and threatening dissenting voices including journalists during the height of the conflict.

Gordon Weiss says the UN humanitarian agencies were also threatened.

“Like the judiciary and the press, the UN was also under pressure from the Sri Lankan government.”

Secretary general’s advisory panel has also made recommendations to the United Nations.

“The Secretary-General should conduct a comprehensive review of actions by the United Nations system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates,” it said.

It also recommended the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to be invited to reconsider its May 2009 Special Session Resolution regarding Sri Lanka.

The UNHRC’s attempts to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka have been unsuccessful after Sri Lanka lobbied the support from India, China and Russia among others.

BBC Sinhala service

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