France, Austria and U.K. Slam Sri Lanka over Civilian Crisis

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UK not Supportive of IMF Loan Attempt
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
Bernand Kouchner UN 11-May-09

UN Photo by Mark Garten

Updated 13-May-09: Added Q&A Session after press briefing.

The three European members of the UN Security Council yesterday appealed to the media bring international pressure and attention to the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka, with a view to getting the country on the agenda of the Security Council.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner appealed for the world not to “wait until the end of any life, not only suffering, but any life” in the three square kilometre sliver of beach occupied by over 50,000 civilians, before it acted to bring the situation under control.

He was speaking with British Foreign Minister David Milliband and Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at an informal press briefing following a meeting between eight Security Council members, UN officials and humanitarian agencies about the situation in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Milliband told the assembled journalists that he had seen reports from “credible and serious organisations who choose their words carefully” that “there has been the use of heavy artillery” affecting civilians in the no-fire zone. There is “no question that civilian life is being lost on a large scale.”

The use of heavy weapons, he said, “goes directly contrary to commitments” made to Britain and France just two weeks ago when they visited Sri Lanka and held discussions with senior government officials including President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

Austria, France and the U.K, he said, “have no doubt at all” that the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka belongs on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council.

In an earlier press interview on the same day, Mr. Milliband asserted that the U.K. does not believe that the Sri Lankan government is “able to show that it will use any IMF money in a responsible and appropriate way.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said that the Sri Lankan government should be asked to “protect their people” as it is an obligation in the framework of the United Nations. “They have to protect the life of their people and they have to try and get them out from the fire soon.”

The three officials also called for a political solution to the ethnic question, and for free access to the government’s civilian internment camps for UN agencies, humanitarian NGOs and journalists.

Video of Press Briefing by 3 European Officials:

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Q & A session.

Question:  What are your options now, just picking up on that question, are you going to try and force this onto the agenda of the UN Security Council and remind countries they have a responsibility to protect?

Bernard Kouchner:  We are ready to talk to other colleagues and there is a special place right now to address them and to tell them what we have seen and what we are suffering of doing nothing against.

Question:  Basically, can you explain us, what are the reasons of those who are against any Security Council actions?  Who are they and what are they saying?

David Miliband: I think that is something that you'll have to address to others.  I think the three of us can speak for ourselves;  others can speak for themselves.  We are clear that this is an issue that the UN Security Council should address.  It involves major civilian loss of life and distress.  It does have ramifications for the region and it involves the word of a member of the United Nations not to use heavy weaponry in the pursuit of its goals to suppress a terrorist organisation.  Those are fundamental issues that we, as European members of the Security Council, do believe belongs here.

Question: We heard this morning from Mr Miliband about the issue of the IMF loan and whether it's a good idea to disperse that loan under current circumstances.  Perhaps Minister Kouchner and His Excellency from Austria could comment on this - whether it is expedient at this moment to allow that money to go to Sri Lanka?

Bernard Kouchner: Yes, we know about this problem. We know. And we want also to address the public opinion, but of course the people in charge of International Monetary Fund, to consider the situation - do we have any other way, escape way, and please Sir don't believe that we are not aware about the whole story, sad story, of the 26 years of war and the role of the LTTE, don't believe that, but we are shocked, more than shocked, we cannot support the way now in this particular place the people are suffering and dying.

Question: Can we have a question please regarding the issue that (interruption) - sorry.

Michael Spindelegger:  Just to finish, I really would like to underline what Bernard Kouchner said. I think he is very right. It is a very sad story and we have to continue in talking with our colleagues very soon.

David Miliband:  let's invite our lady there to say ...

Question: On the EU on Sri Lanka, there is this tarif treatment of textiles from Sri Lanka called GSP Plus which ran out in December and is supposed to be subject to some kind of a human rights investigation, do the three of you, are you aware of that?  What other leverage, if you can't get a Council meeting, do you have to try to stop the killings in Sri Lanka?

David Miliband:  I think Sri Lanka does not want to isolate itself from the international community, the fact that Sri Lanka is dependent in part on trade with the European Union is obviously significant and the fact that it wants preferential trade treatment with the European Union is obviously significant.  At every stage, Europe's responsibilities are to uphold European values as well as to advance the economic interest and that's why the human rights aspects of the discussion are being taken so seriously by the European Commissioner at this stage.