Norwegian ambassador - Hans Brattskar

In going through old files to find material to deal with the allegations of the Darusman Report, I came across a number of documents that surely merit wider publicity at this stage. I found for instance the record of the visit of the Norwegian ambassador  to Kilinochchi in 2006, when he reported with regard to Child Recruitment that  –

  

  • Mr Tamilselvan had insisted that the issue of child recruitment does not fall within the paramilitaries (sic) of the CFA, and should not be part of the agenda at the next round of talks. The LTTE feels that the government is only politicizing the issue.

 

  • Mr Bratskar has pointed out that the CFA does mention of the abduction. Since a child cannot voluntarily join the LTTE military force, all recruitment will have to be treated as abduction. He had also argued that looking at the history of the six rounds of talks, there is an acknowledgement that recruitment should not be continued, and that continued recruitment was extremely damaging to the image of the LTTE at the international level.

 

 I suspect that it was because Mr Bratskar made this point so clearly that the LTTE, having gone to Geneva, failed to appear at the next round of talks.  This suggests that, had Sri Lankan negotiators been firm on this point earlier, the LTTE might have withdrawn sooner, but given the indulgence displayed to them in six rounds of talks in 2002 and 2003, they kept pushing the envelope further and further away from negotiations to stalling while they built up their military strength.

 

This evidence, and much more evidence of basic decency on the part of Mr Bratskar’s successor as well as the Norwegian leadership of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at the time I was in charge of SCOPP explains the very positive relationship I had with them, so much so that I was accused of wanting a job in Norway, which must frankly be a fate worse than death for weak old men fearful of the cold.

  

Conversely, though I found the new UN leadership that came in around 2007 very decent, they inherited a dreadful legacy.  I have mentioned the head of UNICEF who acquiesced in continuing LTTE recruitment of children, and even talked of the difficulties of stopping this, given that their laws permitted recruitment of 17 year olds.

  

Part of the problem I think was that some UN officials had never had it so good, as during the days of the Ceasefire, when they took on a proconsular role, which the Tigers played up to superbly. If I were Darusman I would make much of the credible allegations of lavish food and sexual favours bestowed on foreigners in authority who visited, but I will instead here just mention a note about corruption that was sent in 2005 to Janet Lim, Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, a very charming lady with whom I got on very well when I had dealings with her a few years later.

  

Janet Lim, Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Asia and the Pacific

I have no idea however as to whether she did anything about the allegations. Two of them related to the UNHCR Sub Office in Jaffna, while one referred to lobbying for procurement from a particular supplier. It transpired that a Mr Thiru, who worked for UNHCR in Colombo, was the director of the company that suppled telecom/electronic equipment.  More significant perhaps was the charge against Ms Morgan Morris, the former Head of the UNHCR Sub Office in Jaffna. It seemed that she had purchased a house close to the Sub Office, which was used as a guesthouse for UN and other personnel visiting Jaffna. The house was known as the Morgan Guest House, and though by then Ms Morgan was working for UNHCR in Indonesia, she was back in Sri Lanka at the time the report was made, ‘visiting Jaffna on a private trip’.   Finally – and this seems to have been the allegation taken most seriously in Geneva – there was a senior Administrative clerk called Benita Koneswaran who supervised drivers amongst whom was her husband. It is not clear whether Mrs Koneswaran was Sri Lankan or a member of the international staff.

 

All this may seem very mild stuff, compared for instance to the carrying and concealment of weapons that other UN employers engaged in, to the immense embarrassment of Neil Buhne. But it does suggest a particular mindset, of individuals making hay as it were while the sun shone, which meant while the Tigers continued to threaten.   Perhaps this contributed to what also happened on a regular basis, namely information passed to journalists that contradicted the official pronouncements of senior UN staff. The motive of the junior ones who sneaked regularly may have been idealistic, but I suspect there was much self interest involved too.

 

Neil Buhne

I will conclude this article then with a piece from the Daily Mirror about a UN clarification, about a story the Daily Mirror had carried headlined ‘Thousands Languish in Virtual Death Camps’, which was part of the propaganda designed to suggest that there were good reasons for civilians not wanting to leave the Vanni, and that they were going along willingly as hostages with the LTTE. The UN wrote –

‘To characterize the current situation as akin to anything vaguely resembling a ‘death camp’ displays a staggering lack of proportion. I happen to respect your efforts to find balance in your reporting, but this distortion does not serve truth, justice, or history, and it certainly will not help us to help the citizens of the Vanni’.

 The Daily Mirror carried the clarification and expressed its apologies to the UN office. It did not apologize to the government which it had attempted to traduce by saddling its own description on the UN. Unfortunately this was a practice that was indulged in by many, and even more unfortunately, they could always find individuals in the UN system who were willing to play ball.

  

In such a situation, we must be thankful for the efforts of people like Neil Buhne and Ambassador Bratskar to tell the truth. It is sad now that their public declarations are ignored, and instead we have to put up with innuendo and gossip.

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