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UN receives assurances of staff safety following Sri Lanka protests

UN receives assurances of staff safety following Sri Lanka protests

A UNHCR staff member talks to displaced people in northern Sri Lanka
The United Nations said it is closely monitoring developments in Colombo following yesterday’s protests outside the world body’s offices, noting that it has received assurances of the safety and security of its staff from the Sri Lankan Government.

Hundreds of people took part in the protests, which were reportedly led by Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa in response to the setting up of a UN advisory panel on human rights violations committed in the final stages of the conflict between the Government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009.

According to UN spokesperson Farhan Haq, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, met yesterday with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN, Palitha Kohona, who gave “full and clear” assurances of UN staff safety and security.

He added that Mr. Weerawansa himself said in a press conference that UN staff would be allowed to move in and out of the compound.

“We trust that the Government of Sri Lanka will honour the commitments made in ensuring the safety and security of our staff so that they can continue the vital work being carried out by the United Nations each day to help the people of Sri Lanka,” Mr. Haq told reporters in New York.

The UN Country Team (UNCT) confirmed today that essential staff will return to normal work starting tomorrow.

“However, as there are some indications of demonstrators remaining outside the compound, the UNCT will assess whether all staff could return soon,” said the spokesperson.