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Gordon Weiss

I never met Gordon Weiss. This surprised Zola Dowell, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance in Sri Lanka, for I had often complained to her and her senior colleagues about him, but understandably enough our paths never crossed. The book he has written now serves to confirm my view that junior staff of the UN came to Sri Lanka with particular agendas, some insidious, some based on idealism that was vague and / or intense. This led to conflicts with senior staff, and confidences to journalists that contradicted the official position of the UN – irregularities justified in the belief that they served a higher purpose, identified only by the perpetrator.

Weiss’s irritation with his superiors comes through forcefully in the book, culminating in the assertion near the end of the narrative that ‘One senior UN official did not help matters by rashly announcing to the BBC that all civilians had been rescued’. This approach explains why, after one of my several complaints, Neil Buhne, Head of the UN, just sighed, ‘Oh, Gordon!’ But this was not an unusual situation, for I was told also by a Head of Mission, in confidence, that he had a lot of trouble with his own junior staff – all of which explains perhaps why Prabhakaran and his senior commanders never doubted that what they termed the international community would rescue them in the end. More horrifyingly, this could also explain why they had no qualms about taking so many civilians hostage, believing that they would thus help their supporters, still deluded into thinking of them as freedom fighters, to cry havoc, and ensure continuation of the dogs of war.

Weiss’s narrative also confirms the conclusion I reached when I first read the Darusman report, that perhaps the most insidious of UN officials at the time was the South African Head of Security, Chris du Toit. I had noted after reading the report that du Toit was probably the man who set up what was termed a network of observers, and I suggested then that our Ministry of External Affairs call in the head of the UN and find out how and with what mandate such a network had been set up.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2011
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