U.N. chief served with Haiti cholera complaint, lawyers say

NEW YORK Fri Jun 20, 2014 2:04pm EDT

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reacts while answering questions after giving a speech on Syria entitled, ''Taking Stock and Looking Forward,'' at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Manhattan, New York June 20, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reacts while answering questions after giving a speech on Syria entitled, ''Taking Stock and Looking Forward,'' at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Manhattan, New York June 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for victims of a cholera epidemic in Haiti said on Friday they have served United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a complaint in New York as part of a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for the outbreak, which they blame on U.N. peacekeepers.

    Ban was entering an event at The Asia Society in Manhattan when he was handed the court papers by a process server, according to a statement by lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

A U.N. spokesman, however, said Ban was not served because his security did not allow him to accept the complaint.

"Ban Ki-moon was served personally. Not wishing to receive what he was given is not a defense, said Stanley Alpert, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. "He must now answer or move or be in default personally and for the U.N.," he added.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York's Eastern District in March, also seeks to force the U.N. to bring sanitation and clean water to the Haitian communities in areas affected by the outbreak, which began in October 2010. [ID:nL2N0M81R3]

    The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the United Nations does not enjoy legal immunity from liability for the cholera outbreak, despite its humanitarian role in assisting Haiti.

    The U.N. said last year that it would not pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation claimed by cholera victims, citing immunity under a 1946 convention.

An independent panel, appointed by Ban to study the epidemic that has killed more than 8,300 people and sickened more than 650,000, issued a report in 2011 that did not determine conclusively how the cholera was introduced to Haiti.

    However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the evidence strongly suggested U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the source after they set up a camp near a major river.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and David Adams in Miami; editing by G Crosse)

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