x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UN chief closes office in Sri Lanka after protests

Ban Ki-moon recalls his main representative and closes down offices in Colombo that have been the scene of angry protests over a United Nations war crimes panel.

COLOMBO // UN chief Ban Ki-moon yesterday recalled his main representative in Sri Lanka and closed down offices in Colombo that have been the scene of angry protests over a United Nations war crimes panel. "The secretary general finds it unacceptable that the Sri Lankan authorities have failed to prevent the disruption of the normal functioning of the United Nations offices in Colombo as a result of unruly protests organized and led by a cabinet minister of the government," his spokesman said.

As a result, Mr Ban had recalled UN resident coordinator Neil Buhne to New York and shut down the regional centre of the United Nations Development Programme in the capital Colombo, the spokesman's statement said. Mr Ban named a three-member panel last month to advise on "accountability issues" during the war between government forces and the Tamil Tiger separatists, which ended in May last year. The protests against the UN are widely seen as having the tacit support of the government.

"The secretary-general calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to live up to its responsibilities towards the United Nations as host country, so as to ensure continuation of the vital work of the organisation to assist the people of Sri Lanka without any further hindrance," the spokesman said. Earlier yesterday a Sri Lankan cabinet minister said he was on a hunger strike outside the UN office in Colombo to protest against a panel set up to probe alleged rights abuses during the island's civil war.

Housing minister Wimal Weerawansa, who led protests outside the United Nations building earlier this week, said he was prepared to fast to the death to protect the honour of the military. Hunger strikes are often used in Sri Lanka to attract publicity but are rarely followed for long. Buddhist monks chanted blessings as Mr Weerawansa sat down on a makeshift stage outside the UN compound to start his fast.

He urged people to take part in protests across the island to pressure Mr Ban to dissolve the panel. On Tuesday demonstrators led by Mr Weerawansa surrounded the UN office in Colombo and kept staff under siege for several hours. The world body has previously said that at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, and it estimates some 100,000 people died during the decades-long conflict.

* Agence France-Presse