Sri Lankan denial that U.N. staffers were not asked to go out of the war zone, as the Eelam War IV progressed, is inconsistent with reporting by NGOs of that period.

Ceylon Today newspaper quoted Plantations Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe as saying he was not aware of any agency being asked to leave the conflict zone.

“I have not heard anyone say that we asked them to go out.”

But Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a news and features service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a story dated September 10, 2008, said the U.N. and agencies were forced to relocate following a government order. It said: “Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order has advised in his letter dated 05/09/2008 and numbered SMOD/320/DEM/GEN(45), to inform all the NGOs registered in this office that no expatriate/employee or any other person employed by an NGO and working in the Vanni will be permitted to travel beyond the Omanthai checkpoint, in consideration of prevailing security situation,” said the NGO secretariat of the government in a letter to humanitarian agencies.

The letter could not be accessed through the hyperlink provided; it has been taken off since. “The letter also instructed agencies working in the Vanni to “withdraw/remove all the assets (vehicles, machinery and equipment) and all employees who are not permanent residents in Vanni, with immediate effect,” IRIN had said.

Following the directive, the U.N. began pulling back. In a statement on September 9, 2008, the U.N. said — according to IRIN — that “the U.N. is now evaluating its operations in the area with a view to relocating humanitarian staff. A precise timetable for the complete withdrawal of all staff has yet to be determined, but relocations will begin this week”.

System failed: Ban

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday: “The Panel, headed by Charles Petrie, has now completed its eight-month study. This morning, Mr. Petrie briefed me on the report’s findings and recommendations. The report…concludes that the United Nations system failed to meet its responsibilities, highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programmes of the United Nations country team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council.”

“This finding has profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help. The Panel’s report recognizes initiatives we have taken in the wake of the events in Sri Lanka to prevent a similar breakdown. However, I am fully committed to ensuring that we do much more. As an immediate first step, I will organize a senior-level team to give careful consideration to the recommendations and advise me on a way forward. Other action will follow in short order.”

“As transparency and accountability are critical to the legitimacy and credibility of the United Nations, I also decided some days ago to make the report public,” he said

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