President’s UN visit in the balance

By our diplomatic editor

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 22 when more than 150 world leaders are expected to attend a summit meeting to take stock of the successes and failures of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

But there is a division of opinion in the Presidential Secretariat and the External Affairs Ministry on whether or not the President should be visiting a politically-unfriendly United Nations whose panel of inquiry on Sri Lanka will be meeting during the summit.

A public address by President Rajapaksa, which was scheduled to take place at New York's Asia Society, is likely to be cancelled.

Last year Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, who substituted for the President at the General Assembly sessions in 2009, was embarrassed by a group of human rights activists during a question-and-answer session at the Asia Society following his address.

The government, which is unable to restrict the audience at the Asia Society, has expressed fears that a similar situation could arise this year.

But if the relationship between the UN panel of inquiry and Sri Lanka takes a turn for the worse, it is likely President Rajapaksa may cancel his visit to New York.

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