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What's on the UN panels Sri Lanka visit agenda?

world Updated: Dec 22, 2010 00:38 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Maybe it was the spirit of the upcoming yuletide. Nobody is still sure about the reason behind the change of heart. But everyone was sure taken by surprise when the government said it would welcome the UN panel on Sri Lanka with open arms and a prized appointment with the government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

All arrangements will be made, the foreign ministry said, adding that the three-member panel could make a representation to the eight LLRC members. Though the meeting has all the makings of a warm one, it was not immediately clear which panel will give evidence to whom.

The UN panel was appointed in June by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to advice him on human rights issues that came up during the end of the civil war in 2009. The government's reaction was swift, angry. It waved its immigration rights and said "no entry" to the panel. Always ready to put his life on the line for a cause, minister Wimal Weerawansa threw himself down in front of a few puzzled UN security guards and did not eat a morsel for two days. The panel stayed. Though it will always stay outside the Island, the government fumed.

Last week, the fumes lifted. First it was Ban Ki-moon who spoke about the visit. Then the government confirmed.

Continuous international pressure to investigate alleged war crimes, the loss of nearly $150 million in withdrawn trade concessions by the EU and a tardy rate of foreign investment could have quietly softened the government's indignation.

However, details about the panel's visit are sketchy: what will it do? Will they meet former army chief Sarath Fonseka? Questions remain about whether they will be allowed to move freely within the country. It's also unlikely that the public, say the displaced Tamils, will be allowed to meet them.

Ban Ki-moon's office is yet to share details. Reports said the members of the two panels could even meet outside the country.

Indeed, skepticism is already growing among critics that the exercise will be one in futility; a tight lipped-service to the calls for a war crimes probe where both the government and the UN would claim that they have done their bit. So what, if that's not enough.