UN split on Lankan issue

US backing move for Security Council briefing; China, Russia against
By our diplomatic editor

A move spearheaded by Austria, Mexico and Costa Rica -- and backed by the United States -- to bring the issue of civilian killings in the war-torn Wanni district of Sri Lanka before the United Nations Security Council is being strenuously warded off by at least seven countries led by China and Russia.

The 15-member UN Security Council remains divided over a proposal to hold an informal "briefing" on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. "We need to have a broad consensus for such a briefing," a Western diplomat told The Sunday Times. "We don't have such a consensus. But we are continuing with our discussions,” he said.

At least seven countries -- China, Russia, Japan, Turkey, Uganda, Vietnam and Libya -- have expressed the view that the current situation in Sri Lanka does not warrant a briefing in the Security Council. Two of these countries, China and Russia, are veto-wielding members of the Council and can reject any such proposal.

China is "vehemently" opposing any discussion in the Security Council on the issue of civilians trapped in the fighting between government Security Forces and the LTTE arguing that it is "purely an internal matter".

The Sri Lankan Mission at the UN has been instructed by the Colombo Foreign Office to meet ambassadors of Security Council member-states and explain the ground situation. But Austria, Mexico and Costa Rica , all non-permanent Security Council members, have requested the meeting for March 26 (next Thursday), under the heading "Other Matters" since the Sri Lanka issue is still not a formal item on the Council's agenda. They are reported to be requesting that a procedural vote be taken, on which there are no veto rights. They are banking on obtaining nine votes in the 15 member Security Council to push for the debate on Sri Lanka.

The United States UN envoy Susan Rice has indicated a US willingness to support the move. Ms. Rice told reporters in New York that her country "supports'' the request for a briefing. "The United States feels strongly, and (is) concerned, about Sri Lanka, and we support the provision of it to the Council -- a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation."

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Sunday Times the current request is only for a "briefing" -- which he said was "routine" -- not a full scale Council meeting (as it recently happened with Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan). "As things stand, we are confident a Council meeting on Sri Lanka will not take place," he said. Any such meeting, or moves towards such a meeting, will only provide a breathing space for the LTTE which would continue to hold onto civilians as its protective shield, he said.

Meanwhile, a pro-active website, Inner City Press revealed what it called were UN statistics of civilian killings in the Wanni since January this year, and quoted the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay as recently saying that war crimes "may" be being committed in Sri Lanka by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

The website asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo if, following Ms. Pillay's analysis, he was considering action on Sri Lanka, to which he had replied in the negative. He had stated that Sri Lanka was not a party to the ICC's Rome statute, and therefore the ICC had no jurisdiction in the matter.

The Security Council members were at a weekend retreat with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who had earlier in the week telephoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa and discussed the issue of the trapped civilians in Sri Lanka.

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