Fasting Sri Lanka minister quits to protest UN inquiry

July 9th, 2010 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, July 9 (DPA) A cabinet minister on hunger strike to protest a UN inquiry into alleged human rights abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war tendered his resignation Friday, his spokesman said.
Construction and Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa vowed Thursday not to eat until the UN investigation into reports of abuses by government troops was withdrawn.

Support for his protest from the rest of the government was mixed as demonstrations in Colombo entered their fourth day Friday against the UN’s appointment of the panel to investigate alleged war crimes before the government’s defeat last year of separatist Tamil rebels.

Protesters submitted a petition to the Russian embassy, urging Moscow to ask the UN to abandon its investigation.

Crowds gathered outside the UN’s offices in Sri Lanka, blocking workers’ access and prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to recall the local UN head.

“In light of the evolving situation, he is recalling the UN resident coordinator, Neil Buhne, to New York for consultations,” Ban’s spokesman said.

The demonstrations were launched Tuesday by Weerawansa, who also leads the National People’s Front, a member of the ruling coalition.

The main coalition party, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance, called Friday for restraint.

“There should be a diplomatic approach to resolve the problems with the UN than having street protests,” Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said.

The protests drew more outright criticism from the opposition, who argued they could hamper the UN’s development work in the country.

Ban appointed a three-member panel last month to advise him on the Sri Lankan government’s accountability for its actions in the last months of the 26-year civil war.

Thousands of civilians were reportedly killed as government forces closed in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country before defeating them in May 2009.

Both the government and Tamil rebels were accused of war crimes and other abuses during the civil war.

Meanwhile, the UN confirmed that the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) regional centre in Colombo is to be shifted to its other Asia-Pacific regional centre in Bangkok.

There were no plans to move or close other UN offices in Colombo, including Unicef and UNDP country offices, which were targeted by the demonstrators.

Moving the regional centre was planned before the protests, UN sources in Colombo and Bangkok said.

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