South Asia News
UN closes office in Sri Lanka amid protests (1st Lead)
Jul 9, 2010, 8:54 GMT
Colombo – The United Nations is to relocate its Colombo operations to Bangkok, after protests prompted it to close the Sri Lankan office and recall its head to the UN headquarters in New York.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday it was 'unacceptable' that Sri Lankan authorities had failed to prevent the disruption of UN activities in the country.
'In light of the evolving situation, he is recalling the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, to New York for consultations,' Ban's spokesman said.
'He has also decided that the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo will be closed.'
Demonstrations in Colombo entered their fourth day Friday in protest at a UN-appointed panel to investigate alleged war crimes by government troops in last year's defeat of the separatist Tamil rebels.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional centre in Colombo is to be shifted to its other Asia-Pacific regional centre in Bangkok.
Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister GL Peiris said Friday that the UN had acted 'in haste' in recalling Buhne to New York.
But the UN spokesman in Colombo, Mohan Samaranayake, said the move to Bangkok had been decided in advance and was not directly linked with the protests, which have been preventing UN staff from accessing their office.
The protests outside the UN offices were launched Tuesday by Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa.
Weerawansa, who also heads the National Freedom Front party, a member of the governing coalition, went on hunger strike early Thursday, vowing not to eat until the UN panel was withdrawn.
His supporters handed a petition to the Russian embassy Friday asking them to urge the UN to cancel the investigation.
Ban appointed a three-member expert panel last month to advise him on the Sri Lankan government's accountability for its actions in the last months of the civil war.
Thousands of civilians were reportedly killed as government forces closed in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country, before defeating them in May 2009 after 26 years of civil war.
The US Department of State on reiterated its support for the panel, saying it was an opportunity for Sri Lanka to hold an accountable process and take advantage of the expert group.
'We feel like it's in Sri Lanka's best interest to accept these people and their expert advice and that's offered in good faith,' State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
While resolving the current impasse was a matter between the UN and Sri Lanka and he could not speak for the UN, Toner said Washington supported the involvement of the UN group.