Lankan protesters force UN staffers to work from home

Sri Lankan protesters continued to lay siege to the UN office here forcing most of the staffers to work from home.

Updated: Jul 07, 2010, 18:48 PM IST

Colombo/Washington: Sri Lankan protesters
continued to lay siege to the UN office here forcing most of
the staffers to work from home, as the US backed the world
body`s move, saying "a robust accountability process will
provide a durable foundation for national reconciliation."

The UN appointed a three-member panel two weeks ago to
advise Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on accountability issues
concerning the final stages of the three decade war against
LTTE.
Protesting against the UN`s move, demonstrators led by
a senior Sri Lankan minister prevented the UN staff from
leaving the office for nearly three hours yesterday and the
Foreign Secretary Romesh Jaisinghe had to intervene to allow
the workers to go home.

"I think some protests are still continuing. We have
been told to work from home and to avoid coming to UN office
for one day today," a UN staffer told agency.

"We will keep up the protest until the UN panel is
withdrawn," the protesters threatened, as their action irked
the world body with a UN spokesman saying, that "strong
protest" had been launched with Colombo.

"While respecting the rights of the citizens to
demonstrate peacefully, preventing access to the UN office
hinders vital work being carried out by the world body," a UN
spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

Some protesters also clashed with police outside the
office.

The US also said, while it respected the citizens`s
right to demonstrate peacefully, but it backed the UN
Secretary General`s move to set up a three member panel to
probe human rights violation in the last stages of the Sri
Lakan civil war.
"We support people`s right to free expression. We
also support a robust accountability process that will provide
a durable foundation for national reconciliation and the rule
of law in the aftermath of Sri Lanka`s decades-long conflict,"
State Department Spokesman, Mark Toner said in Washington.

His remarks came as Sri Lanka has announced that it
will not allow the three member UN-panel set up by the
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to enter the country to carry
out human rights investigations.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has registered its
"strong objections" to protests organised outside its offices
in Colombo yesterday "by a Sri Lankan cabinet minister that
prevented the world body`s staff and visitors from entering or
leaving the premises," a UN statement said from New York.

Some members of the pro-government National Freedom
Front clashed with police outside the UN office yesterday.

The LTTE was defeated in May last year after its
chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in the North.
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan government, in a statement
said, it had dealt with the protest outside the UN complex in
Colombo yesterday, in compliance with both domestic as well
as international obligations.

"At the domestic level, Sri Lanka being a democratic
society, the Government had to respect the entitlement to
voice opinion, including through peaceful demonstrations," the
Department of Information said.

Accordingly, the Police permitted a peaceful
gathering in front of the complex, it said.

"The Government was also absolutely mindful of its
international obligations and so the Police authorities
deployed adequate strength and remained vigilant, to ensure
the safety of the UN complex and of the personnel within it,"
the government statement said.

"At the end of the working day (yesterday), the
Police authorities provided reassurance to those within, that
they could freely leave their work place," the statement said.

Once the bulk of the staff had left, a few senior
personnel remained within the complex, it said.

Those demonstrating had expressed the wish that they
should be able to speak to a person in authority in the UN
office, in order to convey their deeply felt reservations
against the appointment of a Panel on Sri Lanka.
The Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs
was accordingly instructed to proceed to the UN complex.

This is to ensure that a very limited number of
demonstrators could meet the senior staff and express their
sentiments.

Once this was accomplished, the remaining UN staff
too left the complex, the statement said.

"The Government of Sri Lanka expects that the UN
complex in Colombo would continue to function as normal in the
days ahead.

"The Government understands that those who are
demonstrating intend to continue with their protest, until the
UN system revisits the matter of the Panel on Sri Lanka," it
said.

At the same time, the freedom of entry and exit to
and from the complex for authorised personnel will remain
constant, the Sri Lankan government statement said.

PTI