U.N. official to return to Sri Lanka after spat

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. country chief in Sri Lanka, recalled to New York in a spat over demonstrations outside the U.N. office in the capital, Colombo, will go back to his post, the world body said on Friday.

Neil Buhne “will conclude his visit to New York this week and he will return to Colombo,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled Buhne last week and ordered the closure of a U.N. regional center in Colombo during protests against a U.N. war crimes panel.

The United Nations said the protests hampered its ability to operate.

The demonstrations were led by Sri Lankan Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who declared a hunger strike. Last Saturday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered Weerawansa to end the fast.

The protests followed Ban’s appointment of a three-member panel to advise him on “accountability issues” stemming from the Sri Lankan government’s destruction last year of Tamil Tiger separatists, ending a 25-year war. Human rights groups have criticized civilian deaths in the war’s final phase.

“It is important to continue U.N. efforts to assist the people of Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to reconstruction and rehabilitation in the (mainly Tamil) north,” Haq said.

Buhne would convey to Sri Lankan leaders “the secretary-general’s strong expectations for better treatment of the U.N. family in Sri Lanka,” he said, as well as progress on resettlement of refugees, reconciliation and accountability.

Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Chris Wilson