Lanka Minister continues hunger strike against UN rights panel

The hunger strike by Wimal Weerawansa, Engineering Services & Housing, Construction Minister, began on Tuesday outside the UN Country office in Colombo, demanding that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon abolish a three-member panel to look into alleged human rights abuses during the last phase of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict that ended last May.

Weerawansa, whose offer to quit office has been rejected by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said he will continue his fast unto death till the UN panel was scrapped. "Only Ban Ki Moon can stop this. The UN Colombo representative and Moon is responsible for my death if I die,” said a tiring Weerawansa, who is leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), a key partner of the ruling alliance.

Weerawansa, who quit office to deflect criticism that his campaign was orchestrated by the government, is suffering from a urine infection and his blood sugar levels are going down. He is unable to sit up and speak, according to one of his supporters. Following Ban's decision to recall UN's Country Representative Neil Buhne to New York for consultations and shut down the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional office in the capital, the Secretary-General called on the government to take urgent action to normalise conditions around the office so the world body can continue its vital work.

"The UN has repeatedly clarified that the three-member panel is not tasked with investigating individual allegations of misconduct," a UN statement said. Rather, it is a follow-up to the joint statement issued by the Secretary-General and the Sri Lankan President after the UN chief visited Colombo in May 2009. "The Secretary-General believes the strong reaction to his establishment of a Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka is not warranted," Ban's spokesperson said in a statement in New York on Friday.

The panel has been set up to take forward the objectives of the joint statement, including fostering of reconciliation and related issues as well as reflecting the commitment by Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of human rights and the importance of accountability in order to continue the strengthening of peace and development in the Country, it said.

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