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In this 20th account of travel in my Peace Secretariat days, i note continuing good relations with senior members of the UN who worked in Sri Lanka, and also the helpful visit of Walter Kalin, the Special Representative for the Displaced. Foolishly the Sri Lankan government did not make use of the evidence their relations with us provided, to rebut the excesses of the Darusman Report.

The pictures are from my visits to Avignon and Luxor, and of Kalin and Neil Buhne.

20 Preparing for the refugees

I had an interview with the Christian Science Monitor the next day, but a break over the weekend, at Aluwihare and Kandy and my cottage. Then in the midst of all my work the following week I learnt more about Early Recovery for which the UN said it was more difficult to get aid, but we should work out how to leverage as much as possible. Sadly this was not the sort of thing Basil understood and, after he had shut out our Ministry from the reconstruction effort, what happened was a hit and miss affair. We lost the opportunity to work solidly on this with the UN, for Neil Buhne, who had been so positive in these years when he headed the UN in Colombo, became head of the Bureau responsible in Geneva, but we had no one in place who could take advantage of this.

That Saturday, February 28th, I left for Geneva, for the regular UNHRC session, getting back only on the 19th, though I had grabbed weekends in between at Avignon and Prague. Having briefed the Minister and the President, I then left on the 20th for a holiday in Luxor with my friend John Harrison. And then, after another intense day when I got back the following Friday, I went on Saturday to Bangkok, but only for a night, for the Thai Democrat Party’s Anniversary Dinner.

The following week we tried to consolidate arrangements, with the regular CCHA meeting at the Ministry of Defence, and an agreement with NGOs which Basil signed at the Presidential Secretariat, for he was gradually taking over. There was a donor meeting at the World Bank and I also met at SCOPP with Bob Blake who was still positive about us, the venom of Hillary Clinton having not yet sunk in.

At the end of that week Walter Kalin, the UN Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, came for his second visit to Sri Lanka, and after a round of meetings on the Friday I flew with him to Anuradhapura on Saturday the 4th and was then taken to Vavuniya by helicopter. Having met the GA Mrs Charles, the military liaison officer L C Perera and the Deputy Head of UN Security Haq, we went to Manik Farm to see General Chandrasiri doing his best to hasten getting it ready, for work had been slow earlier when only Basil had been in charge. We spoke to some of the Internally Displaced Persons who had been housed in the first blocks to be prepared which were comparatively pleasant, though later with a massive influx and tiny tents conditions were much less comfortable.

From there we went by helicopter to Omanthai to see what had earlier been the checkpoint between the areas held by government and the LTTE, since that was where screening mechanisms were in place for those who got away from the LTTE. There was an armoured personnel carrier to take us to the checkpoint, and the officious UNHCR girls who were in assault mode against the government tried to tell Kalin he could not go in it but should travel in a UN car. The commander, Channa Gunatilleke whom I knew from Mannar was obviously unhappy about this, given that we could not be entirely sure about the LTTE, whereupon Kalin jumped into the personnel carrier to go along with me. He knew the rules and whereas these girls viewed what was going on as a war between parties as to whom the UN could not take sides, Kalin was not mixed up and treated us as an elected government, which we were, dealing with an armed insurrection.

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2020
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