UN hides facts about war in Sri Lanka, says French Le Monde

Saturday, May 30, 2009

French newspaper Le Monde published on Friday an article accusing the United Nations (UN) of deliberately hiding facts about civilian killings during the last months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in order to protect their own activities in the country.

According to investigative journalism by Le Monde, The UN did not publish the number of civilians killed until it was finally leaked. According to a UN confidential report, 7,720 people were killed (among them 678 children) and 18,465 were injured (among them 2,384 children) between January 20 and May 13. A UN official declared to Le Monde that his hierarchy tried to suppress these figures to remain in good terms with the government. When these numbers were leaked, Neil Buhne, the UN official coordinator in Sri Lanka, asked to be the only recipient of the figures in the future. Even the secretary general Ban Ki-moon tried to hide the numbers, according to Le Monde.

Despite the heavy bombings in the last days of the war, the 7,720 dead people are still given as an official figure which was repeated in The New York Times. According to Vijay K. Nambiar, Ban Ki-moon's chief-of-staff cited by Le Monde, the numbers could be closer to 20,000; these figures are corroborated by The Times. The paper discovered compelling evidence showing that on average 1,000 Sri Lankan civilians perished each day during the first 19 days of May. "These figures are not even complete yet. It’s going to end up way more" said a UN source.

The Times relied on aerial photographs, confidential UN documents, witnesses and independent defense experts to understand the final days in the 26 year old Sri Lankan civil war. 200,000 survivors are interned in the Manik Farm refugee camp. The camp was visited twice by The Times investigators. 3,000 wounded civilians are still missing from the last known makeshift hospital. A survivor reported hospitals were bombed by the government which claimed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels were using them as hideouts. “They didn’t want anyone left to say what had happened,” say UN sources.

“We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE [rebels] who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape.” said a representative for the Sri Lankan High Commission. Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara of Sri Lanka added "We have not used any shelling or mortaring, only small arms. We know how we are fighting". The aerial images taken by The Times suggest the contrary.

Le Monde also wrote that the United Nations did not help its people on the ground. Text messages sent by local employees in the war zones asked to "stop the war" and "what is the international community doing". "Hundreds of people trying to flew where caught by local dictators and beaten, without distinction of age and sex. I hear them crying." said another one. In April, Vijay Nambiar asked the locals to keep a "low profile" and play an active role in supporting the government.

The Sri Lankan government denied any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland cleared Sri Lanka of any alleged war crimes. Sri Lanka gained the support of China, Egypt, India and Cuba.