A Cabinet Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government started a fast unto death outside the United Nations office here on Thursday to pressure U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to scrap an expert panel to advise him on issues related to alleged human rights violations in the last phase of the war between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE.
The three-member expert panel appointed by Mr. Ban last month has become a major bone of contention between the government and the U.N. with Colombo denouncing it as politically motivated and interference in the internal affairs of the island nation.
Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa started his fast amid slogan chanting by his supporters and declared he will not give up till Mr. Ban scrapped the panel.
“I will fast until the U.N. panel is dissolved and Ban Ki-moon gives an assurance that he will not label the soldiers and political leaders who brought peace to Sri Lanka as war criminals,” Mr. Weerawansa told the gathering.
He said the panel was set up with the motive of “hunting down” soldiers.
“I am prepared to die fasting. If I die during this fast, I request the patriotic fellow citizens to carry forward this struggle to safeguard the soldiers who protected the country.”
On Tuesday supporters of the Minister clashed with the police deployed outside the U.N. office following attempts by some of the protesters to prevent U.N. staffers from leaving the premises. On Wednesday the U.N. voiced serious objections to obstruction of movement of its staffers.
At a separate news conference, Foreign Minister G.L Peiris said while the government was trying to end the crisis resulting from the protest , there would be no attempt to obstruct the fast unto death by Mr. Weerawansa.
He said it was the democratic right of any group to stage a peaceful protest. The Minister said the government had assured the U.N. over the safety and security of its staff in Colombo.