Secretary General’s Panel to meet this month

By Jamila Najmuddin

The UN office in Colombo has been temporarily closed and the UN staff have been advised to work from home today following the tense situation which developed outside the UN office yesterday, UN sources told Daily Mirror online.

The sources said that instructions to work from home had been issued to the UN staff yesterday, after a group of protesters, led by Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who gathered outside the UN office laid siege to the building and prevented the UN staff from leaving the premises.

However, there was no indication of how long the UN staff would stay away from their office — although it is expected that a decision would be taken following a review of the latest developments.Meanwhile, when contacted, officials at UN Headquarters in New York said that New York was closely monitoring the situation in Colombo and would take the matter up with the Sri Lankan government.

“We are fully aware of what is happening in Colombo and are closely monitoring the situation. We will raise the matter with the necessary people,” the official said, refusing to comment further.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s Expert Panel will meet as planned.

Marsuki Darusman, the Chairman of the Panel, when contacted by Daily Mirror online, said the Panel expected to meet in the third week of July.

When asked his opinion of the protest, where he and his two colleagues called ‘three idiots’ by Weerawansa’s supporters, he said, “I would not like to comment about that at the moment. Let’s see how things proceed.”

Meanwhile UN Associate spokesman Farhan Haq, speaking to reporters in New York yesterday, said that the UN had registered its strong objections with the Sri Lankan government over the protest organised by Weerawansa. He added that Mr. Neil Buhne, the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo, had met the Prime Minister yesterday and got an assurance regarding the security of the UN staff in Colombo consequent on the threat made by Weerawansa last week urging the public to lay siege on the UN office.

UN compound ‘seige’

By Supun Dias and  Gandhya Senanayake

Clashes erupted between the police and NFF protesters yesterday when the police intervened to free the staff inside the  UN office who were under siege by the protesters at Bauddhaloka Mawatha in Colombo.

The protest was held against the UN Expert Panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advise him regarding Sri Lanka. The protesters had put up tents in front of the UN compound. In the evening police began to remove the tents which had prevented the staff from coming out of the UN premises.

The compound was obstructed yesterday morning by a large number of protesters, led by Cabinet Minister Wimal Weerawansa, shouting slogans against the UN Secretary General who also erected a stage, blocking the entrance of the office preventing the UN staff from entering or leaving the premises.

After the police intervened and removed one of the tents blocking the entrance several UN staffers began to leave the premises under police protection. Mr. Weerawansa who had left the scene earlier returned and got onto one of the stages which had not been removed and criticised the action of the police and vowed that he would join the Satyagraha if the police officers surrounding the compound did not move out.

Former non cabinet Minster of Cultural Affairs Piyasiri Wijenayaka, who was taking part in the protest, was reportedly injured when the police began dispersing the protesters, while eight others were admitted to hospital. Meanwhile, Mr. Weerawansa made a telephone call to the police chief in front of the large crowd and insisted the police to be removed immediately and threatened to begin a fast unto death if they were not removed.

After making several calls and receiving instructions from a government high ranker, the police started to withdraw from the surrounding area.

A clash erupted between the protesters and the police before the officers withdrew after a senior police officer’s helmet was removed and he was pushed away by one of the protesters.

Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe arrived outside the UN office in the evening and was escorted by two representatives of the National Freedom Front (NFF) inside the UN building to hold discussions with a top UN official in the country.

Before entering the UN office, Mr. Jayasinghe was seen having discussions with Mr. Weerawansa in the midst of the protesters who remained in the area staging a ‘satyagraha.

The NFF representatives later came out of the UN office saying they had agreed with UN officials to allow the remaining UN staffers to leave and that they would guarantee their safety.  In the evening a large number of UN staffers were escorted to safety by the police as the unruly protesters continued to shout slogans. A large number of riot police and police water cannon were also brought in, to disperse the protesters. “None of the UN member countries have given the green light to Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon to appoint committees against UN member states. He has taken the side of the extremist and terrorist forces against one of its member countries”, said Mr. Weerawansa.

“They are using General Sarath Fonseka as a witness and trying to conduct an International Military Tribunal against the Commander in Chief and the military leaders who contributed to the great victory”, he said.

Source: The Daily Mirror – 07.07.2010

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