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At the UN, African Kosovos, Ivory Coast Deal and Jean-Pierre Bemba's Leg

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 27 -- In Africa, where are the potential Kosovos, and who will play Serbia's role?

    It emerged today at the UN that concern about the precedent of Kosovo independence is not limited to Russia, but is shared by African nations, or at least by South Africa. While Security Council members South Africa, Congo or Ghana seem unlikely to veto the proposal unveiled Monday for Kosovo's independence, the concerns from Africa echo those that triggered the recent failure of a draft treaty on the rights of the indigenous. The stated worry then was of increased tribal conflict. Here it is of territories: Somaliland and Puntland, North and South Kivu, perhaps Casamance in Senegal. The concerns that surfaced on Tuesday will have to be addressed.

            In related West Africa conflict news, the UN Security Council is slated on March 28 to endorse the deal between Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro, which will make Mr. Soro the country's prime minister, replacing the UN-installed Charles Banny. Inner City Press on Tuesday asked the Council's president for March, South Africa's Kumalo, when the Council will act on requests that the UN draw down troops from the country as well. "Eventually the Security Council will come up with a resolution" for the draw-down, Amb. Kumalo answered. Video here, from Minute 5:10 to 6:15.

            Wednesday's "Presidential Statement is urgent, the agreement is being implemented," Amb. Kumalo said. Last week, the army and rebel soldiers formed a joint command. The agreements came fast, and left the UN looking surprised. In this case, perhaps both sides wanting the UN and France out of the country helped lead to an agreement. Cynics predict now just a sharing of the profits. We'll see.

            Also discussed in the Security Council on Tuesday was Martti Ahtisaari's status proposal for Kosovo independence. Russia proposed a review of past compliance with Resolution 1244, and a trip to Pristina and Belgrade by Security Council Ambassadors sometime in April. Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin about a quote from foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, that, "If Ahtisaari thinks he has done everything within his power, then almost certainly another person could be found to do it." Inner City Press asked, is this still Russia's position?

            "It is not a matter of personalities," Amb. Churkin replied. "Whatever the statements are, they should not be interpreted as a sign of disrespect" for Ahtisaari. Video here, from Minute 7. Amb. Kumalo, too, praised Ahtisaari, for his role in the process leading to Namibia's independence.  He said that South Africa is seeking assurances -- it is not clear from whom -- about what precedent independence for Kosovo might set in Africa. As simply some few examples, there has been a longstanding conflict in the Casamance portion or protuberance of Senegal. There is Acholi-land in Northern Uganda, there were the Kivus and Ituri during a stage of the DR Congo war. Then and now there are Somaliland and Puntland.

USG Holmes and Bamaba Marial Benjamin of the Government of Southern Sudan (an African Kosovo?)

   Many African countries have opposed the draft convention on the rights of indigenous people on similar stated grounds, that it would have divisive ramifications in Africa. Darfur, too, comes to mind, along with Transniestria and Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh and the breakaway parts of Georgia, South Ossentia and Abkhazia. On this last, Georgia is suing Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, which Russia calls, for now, "unhelpful."

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Kumalo, who has three days left in his Council presidency, whether in Kinshasa, Jean-Pierre Bemba remains holed up in South Africa's diplomatic compound. Amb. Kumalo said that he does, adding that "he is not a refugee or anything like that," and that outgoing Assistance Secretary General Hedi Annabi told the Council that Mr. Bemba will be traveling to Portugal on Saturday to get treatment for a broken leg. Video here, from Minute 9:20. Bemba has said that DRC President Kabila is trying to kill him. And as one wag said at the stakeout on Tuesday, Congo was supposed to be the UN's big success story this year...

            An ongoing question from this report forward: where are Africa's (potential) Kosovos?

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At the UN, Memorial of Slavery While Local Fires and People Are Sometimes Forgotten

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 26 -- The 200th anniversary of British legislation against the transatlantic slave trade was marked Monday at the UN in New York City. In the poorest of New York  City's borough, The Bronx, March 25 is also the anniversary of 1990's Happy Land Social Club fire, which killed 87 people, most of them ethnic Garifunas from Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. Garifuna lore includes their ancestors' liberation from slavery and flight to Central America and then some further north.

            Inner City Press asked a panel of experts at the UN Monday about the Garifuna. The Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Denzil Douglas, spoke of the Garifuna as Caribs, whose rights are now enshrined in his country's laws. Professor Rex Nettleford of the University of the West Indies spoke of "cross-pollination," pointing out that Anglo-Saxons, too, are hyphenated people. Video here, from Minute 28:34 through 37:25. The UN's write-up omitted any reference to the two Garifuna answers.

            Uptown in The Bronx, memory of the fire of 1990 is starting to fade. The deathtrap of a building has been fixed and re-rented out. A New York Times essay of March 18, about the death by fire of the Malians in The Bronx earlier this month, quotes Inner City Press that ''Death is painted over, blood mopped off the street or driven into it by car wheels. The city ends up erasing all, forgiving all.'' FN 1

            Such oblivion seems shared, some say, by the UN. Mali's foreign minister Moctar Ouane came to New York this months after the fire. Mayor Bloomberg met with him; Governor Spitzer met with him. Several New Yorkers interviewed by Inner City Press asked, Where was Ban Ki-moon?  Others say the question is unfair, and point out that Mr. Ban has reached out to New Yorkers, most recently at a lunch in honor of State Senator Roy Goodman. This lunch was attended by Jonathan Bush and many UN diplomats and correspondents. But what of the real New York? Perhaps when Ban returns from his trip to the Middle East. On that trip, Egypt's foreign minister reportedly disagreed with Ban's analysis of Darfur.

Public information, with gap

  From Monday's UN noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: Two questions.  There’s a report that Ban Ki-moon had a press conference with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, at which he, Ban Ki-moon, said that Egypt should play a more active role in getting [President] al-Bashir to allow the United Nations into Sudan, and that the Foreign Minister of Egypt said pressure is not the point at this time.  Is that accurate as to what had taken place there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me just...  I think what you're referring to is, on Saturday, the Secretary-General met with President Mubarak.  I just gave you a recount of his account of the conversation that he had with the President of Egypt.  And in it, the Secretary-General, just to reiterate, said he explained to the Egyptian President the discussions between the United Nations and the Government of Sudan on Darfur, including the deployment of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation and the humanitarian situation.  And he added that he expects that President Mubarak and other leaders in the region will take the time to take a look at the issue more seriously, to help the efforts of the United Nations and the African Union to address this issue as soon as possible.

The Egyptian President and the Secretary-General, as I mentioned, discussed this request.  And I think there’s no question that they did not reject his request to get involved in the process.  And I think the Secretary-General will be bringing -- pushing -- the Darfur issue in his coming days of talks, especially at the League of Arabs States Summit in Riyadh.

Question:  Also, do you have any update on the status of Guido Bertucci from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs?  There's some word in the building that he may have been suspended -- could you confirm any of that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he has not been suspended.  I have nothing else further.

   We'll see. Monday's UN press briefing at 12:45 was chaired by Crispin Gregoire, Permanent Representative of Dominica and by Raymond Sommereyns, Director of Outreach Division of the UN's Department of Public Information (DPI). Mr. Sommereyns said at the beginning that he was "today also officially in charge of the Department." Afterwards, he graciously clarified that this is only while Shashi Tharoor is away, until the middle of this week, before being succeeded by Kiyotaka Akasaka, DSG of OECD (whose views on relations close as well as far are not yet known). Mr. Tharoor has written movingly of memory and forgetting. Whether the UN will now remember the wider New York remains to be seen.

FN 1 - This Bronx quote about oblivion was cited back to Inner City Press as somehow being inconsistent with coverage of and from the UN. Of Inner City Press, to others, less genteel but no less arbitrary critiques were offered.  But in journalism, if they like you too much, you're not doing your job. Two final notes to the UN's DPI: that a publication covers people of the Diaspora in the UN's headquarters city is not inconsistent with, but rather embodies, international(ist) journalism. We include this level of detail because, given the undeniable disconnect between the UN and its host city as well as country, the dearth of outreach and involvement close to UN Headquarters is hard to understand.

To be continued.

UN Envoy Chissano Seeks Solution to Lord's Resistance Army, "Without Impunity"

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- The war crimes indictments against the leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army were gingerly discussed on Thursday by the UN's envoy to the LRA-affected areas, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano. After Mr. Chissano briefed the UN Security Council on his efforts to get the LRA back into peace talks and a ceasefire with the Ugandan government, Inner City Press asked him about the role of the International Criminal Court's indictments on the process.

            "The ICC cannot get involved in negotiations," Mr. Chissano quickly pointed out. Video here, from Minute 3:47. "The Uganda government is busy trying to study how to find an alternative solution, to take care of the question of non-impunity."

            Mr. Chissano was asked if the indictments pose an obstacle to the negotiations. Strangely, he downplayed what is widely described as a sticking point, and rather said that the only impact of the indictments was been that the five leaders indicted "cannot participate in the talks."

            To the contrary, an LRA representative to the talks, Godfrey Ayo, has been quoted that "It is the view of LRA that the ICC warrants of arrest is the greatest obstacle in all attempts geared towards ending the war in northern Uganda and bringing about peace in the region."  Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti of the LRA have demanded that the indictments be quashed. More recently, they have called for the involvement in the talks of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni's brother, General Salim Saleh.

Mr. Chissano with DSG Migiro: indictments are scarcely an obstacle

            Mr. Chissano took only two questions, and then rushed with a small entourage into the Council to finalize a Presidential Statement, then to the UN's elevators. One wanted to ask for his views on the crisis in Zimbabwe, and perhaps even about the rifts in the Council on Iran. But Mr. Chissano was gone. In the run-up to his appearance, the UN Spokesperson's Office went to great lengths to point out that he is not a mediator, he is a facilitator. If the talks lead nowhere, it is not the UN's fault.

            On Monday Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a read-out on Chissano's meeting with the LRA's leader and indicted war criminal, Joseph Kony.  An hour later, the following arrived:

Subj: LRA peace talks 

Date: 3/19/2007 12:56:50 PM Eastern Time

From: OSSG

To: Matthew Russell Lee

"The UN has no direct involvement in the talks. Please contact the Mission of Sudan, as that country is hosting and organizing the peace talks, for any additional information on the alleged resumption of the talks."

            Mr. Chissano said, as an aside, that much of the LRA delegation in fact resides in Nairobi, Kenya, when not in Juba for the talks. Recently at the UN, in response to questions from Inner City Press, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called the LRA a criminal enterprise that should not be romanticized as a defender of Uganda's Acholi people. Earlier still, South African judge Richard Goldstone criticized UN officials who have met with Kony and Otti, saying that if such contacts are desired, the Security Council should formally suspend the ICC indictments for a year. While Mr. Chissano said the search of on for a "solution to the question of non-impunity," dissembling and murkiness hardly strengthen the rule of law.

At UN, Iran Resolution Is Juggled with Zimbabwe, Uganda Is In, Brammertz Eats Alone

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 21 -- Following a Security Council meeting Wednesday afternoon about Iran, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff emerged and told reporters that there is still a possibility of a vote this week on the draft sanctions resolution, and that the afternoon's meetings were "not a negotiation session."

            Minutes later, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the president of the Council this month, was asked about Wolff's comments.  He asked rhetorically, if it was not a negotiation session, what was it? South Africa has issued a two-and-a-half page "non-paper" which proposes that a 90 day time out be built into the resolution, and would omit from the sanctions list several individuals and companies, including Bank Sepah, Qods Aeronautics Industries and Pars Aviation Services Company. Others are requesting that the resolution's proponents come forward with justification and proof about the names on the sanctions list.

            By Wednesday evening, the UN was full of competing theories on what will happened next. Some say that the resolution's proponents will put it "in blue" on Thursday night, and demand a vote within 24 hours. Others note that Ambassador Kumalo, as Council president, controls when meetings are scheduled, and at a minimum could hold off action until Iran's president, who has requested to address the Council before any vote of further sanctions. Further out, it is speculated that South Africa could run out the clock until the end of their month heading the Council, and that the UK, which chairs the Council in April, would preside over the sanctions' enactment. We'll see.

Zimbabwe as Political Football

            In the eddies of this jousting about the Iran nuclear sanctions resolution, the issue of Zimbabwe is being buffeted about like a homeless cause. A briefing of the Security Council about recent events in Zimbabwe -- the arrest and beating of opposition leaders, the crackdown on the press, the economic collapse -- had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon. It will no longer take place, at least at that time. Ambassador Kumalo Wednesday evening that "the UK had wanted a briefing on Zimbabwe, that's not going to happen now."  Amb. Kumalo has previously been heard by correspondents to say that Robert Mugabe is just a grumpy old man who should be allowed to serve out his time.

UK Amb. Emyr Jones Parry: before Guernica, Zimbabwe to follow

            Soon after Ambassador Kumalo's comments, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry about the status of the briefing on Zimbabwe, and any linkage to the negotiations around the Iran sanctions resolution. Ambassador Jones Parry said that because the Iran text will now been discussed on Thursday afternoon, the Zimbabwe briefing was bumped. He said he has requested that it take place, if possible, on Thursday morning, or at the soonest possible time thereafter. At 7 p.m., Thursday's Council scheduled was released, with Zimbabwe not included in the morning or afternoon session. (Northern Uganda / the Great Lakes, a euphemism for the Lord's Resistance Army conflict, remains on the agency for a briefing at 4 p.m., click here for today's Inner City Press coverage of LRA, Joaquim Chissano and Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro.) Given South Africa's position that Zimbabwe issues do not belong in the Security Council, it remains to be seen what happens with the Zimbabwe issues now.

            One update on a less prominent hotspot: earlier in the week, Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Churkin when Abkhazia will be considered by the Council, given the request by Georgia after the contested elections in the region, and the bombing incident which the UN says its is investigating. "It's on the agenda for next week," Ambassador Churkin said, then amended the answer to "next month." What will Kosovo, the issues are piling up. We'll see.

            Finally, a review and in-UN sighting. Serge Brammertz of the International Independent Investigation Commission on Wednesday spoke at the stakeout for 23 minutes without saying much of anything. To some degree it's understandable: a prosecutor can only say so much about an ongoing investigation. But why then stand at the stakeout for 23 minutes? One wag noted that those who should speak and have no excuse not to, such as Ibrahim Gambari, often rush right past reporters, while those who can't or won't speak seem to hunger for attention. Related or not, Mr. Brammertz was observed later on Wednesday eating alone in the UN cafeteria. As someone once said, the UN can be like high school...

In Iran Talks, China Offers Quotes and Hope to Shivering Reporters

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- As a next round of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programs are discussed by the five permanent member nations of the Security Council and Germany, Thomas Matussek, the German envoy, predicted that the penalties agreed to will be "swift and modest." To this process, the UN press corps adds another adjective through chattering teeth: cold.

            Talks have so far been held outside of the UN, in the United Kingdom's mission in 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street and Second Avenue in New York, where the temperature has been below freezing. Ambassadors emerge from the talks to inform or spin reporters about the negotiations. Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff came out spoke to a dozen journalists waiting on the sidewalk in the cold. His comments were a model of bland diplomacy:

Amb. Wolff: The devil is in the details on these things as you know... We're doing a lot of explaining in different terms of what peoples' concerns are, and what is the best way to get our ultimate objective, and the ultimate objective is a shared one, to signal to the Iranian government that there is a cost for not adhering to resolutions, for not complying with their obligations, and the cost increases each time they don't comply.

            These comments were, reporters noted, less than useful.  The talks resumed at 10 a.m. on Friday, an even colder day in New York. Reporters were shivering when the meeting broke up at 1 p.m.. But this time, Chinese Ambassador Guangya Wang provided more specifics:

Q. Do you see this going on for a few more weeks?

Amb. Wang: I hope if it goes well, then at least I don't think we will be ready by next week.

Q. Not by next week?

Amb. Wang: No. My feeling is, not.

Q. Ambassador, one more thing. Yesterday, the State Dept. spokesman indicated that this time Chinese are more resisting than Russians. How do you respond?

Amb. Wang:  I think... the difficulty for China is different from the difficulty that Russians have.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

Amb. Wang: I think the Chinese main difficulty is with the financial and trade sanctions against Iran, because we feel that we are not punishing Iranian people. We should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field. And the difficulty for Russia is, Russia has difficulty with the name of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, because they feel it's an institution in Iran and you don't have to penalize an institution.

            Reporters were grateful for the quotes, which appeared in Reuters and in much of the Japanese press. But the stock of Ambassador Wang and perhaps of China rose even higher with the press corps when he expressed chagrin or at least some doubts about holding the meetings outside of the UN, where reporters have to wait outside in the cold. You have no place to sit, and now water, Amb. Wang remarked, mentioning that he will try to move the forthcoming meetings back into the UN building. 

   Other Ambassadors at the talks did not express this concern; one press spokesperson remarked that no one obliged reporters to come and wait for quotes in the cold. Provoking the most ire, after French Ambassador Jean Marc de la Sabliere did not come outside for even a moment to speak, since his office is inside the building, his spokesman sent reporters a short bilingual (and unusable) quote by e-mail: "The meeting was constructive. We are making progress / Nous avancons."

            Merci for nothing, muttered one reporter. The ink-stained sources cited in this piece are granted anonymity due to their need for continued access to thin-skinned diplomats.

Amb. Wang speaks to Amb. de la Sabliere (Froid? Moi? )

            There is a saying in courthouses, that the law is what the judge had for breakfast.  Likewise, some of journalism is impacted by how the journalists are treated. If the personal is political, one can expect more understanding coverage of China's positions, at least during these Iran sanctions negotiations.

            One reporter marveled that China was so humane in New York, while taking a different approach back home (for example, shooting some of those trying to flee Tibet, click here for that story.) Another wag -- this one -- quipped that if the North Koreans sent blankets, hot coffee and construction heaters to the press corps on 47th Street, their line that the United States and the UN are "gangster-like" might gain a bit more traction.

In full disclosure, while the account of Thursday evening's stakeout is first-hand, on Friday while the above-described took place, Inner City Press was posing questions to the UN's envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and to Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about North Korea, in the too-warm UN briefing room. Click here for Inner City Press' most recent (and, one hopes, more substantive) story on the UN's dealings with North Korea. The spokesperson referred the question to the South Korean mission. But that's west of First Avenue, and as more than one reporter signed, it's coooold outside. To be continued.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540