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UN Closes Sri Lanka Office After Days of Protests


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is recalling the top U.N. official in Sri Lanka and closing the U.N. office in Colombo, following three days of Sri Lankan protests against a U.N. war crimes panel.

Mr. Ban said Thursday it was "unacceptable" that Sri Lankan authorities had failed to prevent "unruly" protests from disrupting the normal functioning of U.N. offices in the capital.

The U.N. chief issued a statement saying the U.N. resident coordinator (Neil Buhne) was being recalled to New York for consultations.

The announcement came hours after a Sri Lankan cabinet minister said he would begin a hunger strike outside the United Nations office in Colombo, to protest the world's body investigation of alleged war crimes during the country's civil war.

Housing minister Wimal Weerawansa was greeted by cheering and flag-waving supporters when he vowed to continue his fast until the United Nations dissolves a three-member panel looking into alleged war crimes committed during more than two decades of civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels. The government denies that any war crimes were committed during the military operation, which resulted in the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.

The minister says the U.N. panel has been established "to hunt down our soldiers." He fears the panel is a plan to take Sri Lanka's military before a war crimes tribunal. He says he is prepared to fast to death to stop that from happening.

The hunger strike is the latest move by the minister, who has been leading protests outside the U.N. office in Colombo since Tuesday, when many staff members were trapped for several hours as protesters blocked exits.

Minister Weerawansa leads the ultranationalist National Freedom Front, an ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government.

The minister's fast and protests appear to have been given the "green light" from the highest levels of the government said Jehan Perera, the head of Colombo's National Peace Council.

"The message that is going is that what the U.N. is doing is an unacceptable intrusion into Sri Lanka's internal affairs, and this person [the housing minister] is trying to make a very strong statement on behalf of the government." Perera said.

The United Nations strongly objects to the protests and says it has no plans to scrap the panel. The government has assured the world body that its staff will be able to enter and leave the building.

Sri Lanka's civil war ended last year, but human rights groups have alleged that thousands of civilians were deliberately targeted by both the army and the rebels in the final stages of the conflict.

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