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At UN, Ban Bones Up on Safety and Swing Space, Sri Lanka Pushed into Past

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 11, updated -- In the lead up to today's Ban Ki-moon press conference, Mr. Ban's staff prepared him on the non foreign policy topics of the UN's Capital Master Plan, safety and the so-called swing space which will be used for the four years Headquarters is under repair. While many UN staff members are unhappy with where they are being moved and what they'll come back to, if they come back, the press corps has become increasingly vocal.

  Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas was given advance notice that Ban will be asked about the attempt by his officials, led by Under Secretary General for Management Angela Kane and CMP chief Michael Adlerstein, to charge media organizations $23,000 for office space similar to that they now have for free. Inner City Press reported exclusively on these attempted charges, linking it with the exodus of several media organizations including the Washington Post from the UN.

  Subsequently, the money demand was dropped, and only "open office" cubicles offered. [But see below - on June 10, the UN renewed its proposal to charge the press money for space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has done.] The UN press corps remains strongly opposed and urges ratcheting things up, as is done here.

  The UN's rationale is that the UN is moving to a culture of transparency. We've yet to see it. At a supposed Town Hall meeting led by Angela Kane on June 5 about UN justice, security officers checked all attendees' identification cards at the entrance doors. Can't have any reporting on justice at the UN, apparently.

  More substantively, Ban or his Spokesperson's Office seem to have decided to try to cut off questions about the year's bloodiest conflict, Sri Lanka. On May 23, the UN's Ban Ki-moon signed a Joint Statement with Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ban has since said that he is closely monitoring compliance.

  But only this week, his Spokespeople have refused to comment on the deporting of Canadian MP Bob Rae, the extension of state of emergency anti-terror laws, and the country's outgoing chief justice's statement that those in the UN-funded internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.

 What does Mr. Ban himself think? One hopes to get an answer.

UN's Mr. Ban and Ms. Kane in basement, many things not shown

  Back in Headquarters, an incoming USG who is seeking answers is Gregory Starr, the replacement of David Veness. He is slated, sources say, to meet later this week with DSG Asha Rose Migiro. The delayed Security Risk Assessments are said to finally be completed, but their recommendations are not known, particularly with regard to safeguards needed at the Madison Avenue and 47th Street swing space.

In the run up to his June 11 "monthly" press conference, Ban was said to be angry at the mounting concerns about the safety of the way the CMP is being implemented. Asbestos removal has been performed, for example, right next to the UN library, still in use.

   Adlerstein insists that the work is being done on weekends, by "men in spacesuits... using negative pressure." But the Staff Union has questioned the process, and has also now in writing, they say, questioned what they call Angela Kane's grab of space on the library building's third floor, causing a unit of the Department of Public Information to move twice.

  At a recent meeting, Adlerstein insisted that such double moves are common, and blamed Inner City Press making it an issue. If he only knew -- the issue was raised first by the Staff Union. Inner City Press spoke briefly with Adlerstein on June 10, asking the status of the white PVC piping, otherwise illegal in New York, and the septic tank installed in the third sub-basement next to the garage for Mr. Ban's car.

  After first declining to answer -- Adlerstein, as well as Ms. Montas, say they are opposed to "getting quotes in the hallway," which is routinely done by the UN press corps, particularly on the Security Council beat -- Adlerstein said that the PVC is legal, and the septic tanks will stay. Staff Union sources wonder if Ban has smelled his car. "That's not a new car wax," one joked on Thursday morning.  He added that such close Press coverage of the UN is a mark of respect, not disrespect, for "the Organization."

  These sources insist that the USG for Management post is "in play," as they put it. The initial impetus, they say, came from the United States, but others have now joined in. Inner City Press asked, but where does one shift a USG? The sources pointed to the lateral move of Ms. Kane's predecessor Alicia Barcena to ECLAC in Santiago, and joked that the UN now like "giving Germans high UN posts in Africa," referring to Ban's (or Kane's) replacement of Anna Tibaijuka as head of the UN office in Nairobi by UNEP's Aichim Steiner.

  As we've noted before, most recently in connection with what is described as Ms. Kane's memo to Ban about a May 8 meeting with other USGs about legal action against three media organizations, one of which interviewed Ban on June 10, and proposal to complain to Google News about Inner City Press, click here for that -- we'd like to get direct responses on these issues from Ms. Angela Kane, but she has indicated in writing and never changed a statement that she has not time to answer questions, to just ask in the briefing room. Watch this space.

Update of 10:59 a.m. -- Ban's press conference, scheduled for 11 a.m., has been pushed back to 1 p.m.. It is the only thing on this public schedule for the day (he flies to St. Louis later in the day). Reportedly, the UN is again proposing to charge the press money for space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has done.

  With Angela Kane not in the meetings -- reportedly out of town -- Ban's deputy chief of staff has taken the lead. Some say his focus is on newly arriving South Korean media, if they must work in the non-enclosed bullpen, then everyone should. Ostensibly to allay concerns about journalists' expensive equipment being stolen from open office space, the UN has offered to install additional, multiple angle security cameras. There's talk, satirical or absurd, about a designated "UN Whistleblower Zone," perhaps like the so-called "No Fire" Zone in Sri Lanka. To be continued.

Update of 12:56 p.m. -- the press corps is settling in for Ban's presser, putting their names on the list maintained by his Spokesperon's Office. Inner City Press was here early, after the stakeout of top humanitarian John Holmes, immediately entered into the list and took a spot in the front row, so we'll see.

Update of 1:01 p.m. -- Ban has begun, stating that he waited until 1 p.m. in light of WHO raising its Swine Flu / H1N1 level to six. There is whispering about how or even if the swing space issue will be raised.

Update of 2:12 p.m. -- while Ban's Spokesperson did not call on Inner City Press, despite the right to ask follow ups to a question if Ban thinks he will be a two term Secretary General, when she called on CNN, their long time correspondent with characteristic class said he would give the question right to Inner City Press. It was the last question of the press conference; Inner City Press asked for Ban's response to the Economist rating him 3 / 10 on Speaking Truth to Power, and even lower, 2 / 10, on Management Skills.
   Ban gave a long and unscripted answer, which we will analyze and report on later today. For now, various observers called it his only passionate answer, or to be more charitable as he requested, the most passionate of his answers.

  As Ban left for St. Louis, his deputy chief of staff approached the first questioner, about the swing space, and audibly said, let's continue the dialogue, but you broke our agreement. Another journalist replied, We are not sorry, Mr. Kim. It all took place in the briefing room, with recorders running. Only at the UN... Watch this site.

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As Sri Lanka Deports Canadian MP, UN Has No Comment, Controls Questions To Be Asked

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 10 -- Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General who declined to visit Sri Lanka until after the government's assault on the "No Fire" Zone had been reached its deadly conclusion, has said he is closely monitoring "post-conflict" developments in the country. On June 10, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Ban or the UN had any comment on the Sri Lankan government deporting a member of parliament from Canada, Bob Rae.

   Ms. Okabe said she and Ban have no comment. "Again," she said, "I am not going to have reactions to everything you read in the newspaper about Sri Lanka.." Video here, from Minute 11:16. The question and non-answer are not included in the UN's summary of the briefing.

  This new approach appears to be designed to have the Sri Lanka issue fall off not only the radar of the UN Security Council -- a seemingly final "informal interactive dialogue was held on June 5 -- but of the wider UN. Journalists are allowed to ask persistent daily questions about many situations, without a similar reaction from Ban's Spokesperson's office: for example on the Middle East, Sudan or Pakistan. They try now however to make Sri Lanka off limits, to discourage even any questions being asked.

   Ms. Okabe went on to imply that rather than ask questions, the Press should simply wait to see if and when Ban issues statements. "As he sees fit, he will be responding," Ms. Okabe said. Ban chose in recent days to comment on the death of Gabonese strongman Omar Bongo, and to praise President Obama's speech (whether he will do that for the other 191 heads of state's speeches is not clear). But apparently he did not see fit to respond to Sri Lanka extending anti-terror laws and deporting a Canadian elected official.

UN's Ban in IDP camp in Sri Lanka, response to deporting Canadian MP not shown

   Later on June 10, Inner City Press posed the same question to a senior political adviser to Ban, who expressed frustration. He said, "we had predicted what two things would be asked today, and we said it would be the barring of Bob Rae" -- a longtime observers of Sri Lanka whom the adviser called fair -- "and the extension of the state of emergency anti terrorism laws."

  About the latter, Inner City Press asked on June 9, and Ms. Okabe had no comment on that, either. The Ban adviser told Inner City Press that he would have said, of the blocking of Bob Rae, what while the UN usually does not comment on such actions, "it is not helpful."

   So who is running the show at the UN? Does Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office actually speak for him? On June 11, Mr. Ban holds a press conference, at which he will offer his own answers to the questions which are allowed by his Spokesperson. While some questions are sure to focus on a range of initiatives and meetings by Ban's highest officials which many see as anti-press, the questions about Sri Lanka should, one imagines, be allowed. Watch this site.

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On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Anti-Terror Law, Ban's Freetown Rep Not Worried By Protest

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- As UN money supports internment camps in northern Sri Lanka, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that he is closely monitoring compliance with the Joint Statement he signed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  But on June 9, in a UN noon briefing with no real time pressure and only three journalists in the room, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe first tried to shift directly from a twelve minute read out of press releases to a guest about Sierra Leone, then begrudgingly agreed to take Inner City Press' "daily two questions."

  Inner City Press asked if Sri Lanka's extension of its anti-terrorism laws, which allow detention with out charge and are directly disproportionately against the Tamil minority, are consistent with Ban's understanding of the Commitment, and with his call against triumphalism and for reconciliation.

  Ms. Okabe called this a mere "press report" on which the UN has no comment. For the sake of time, she said, let's turn it over to the guest. Video here, from Minute 12:39.

   First, the extension of the anti-terrorism laws was extensively reported, and is a legislative fact. Any office closely monitoring developments in Sri Lanka would be aware of it, and should be prepared to comment hours later on it -- particularly since the detained doctors who remained in the "No Fire" zone offering treatment and casualty figures, about whom Ban has expressed concern, are being held under these laws.

   Second, there was no rush to get the guest, the representative in Sierra Leone, on. The noon briefing had been reduced to a less than 15 minutes, more than 12 minutes of which consisted of Ms. Okabe reading out loud UN press releases.

  It appeared clear that Ms. Okabe simply didn't want to answer questions. To be so dismissive of Sri Lanka, a topic the Secretary General is ostensibly monitoring closely, appears to be inconsistent.

UN's Ban and troops during Africa trip, SLPP and doctors not shown

   The Sierra Leone UN representative, Michael Schulenburg, is also accused of being too close to the country's president. Inner City Press asked Schulenburg to respond to a quote from the US representative of the opposition SLPP, that Schulenburg's and Ban's report "reads more like an eulogy to President Koroma than an objective, professional, and balanced report on the fair implementation of the very communique."

   Schulenburg said that the criticism of his approach is only from "one journalist." Even Ban's high officials point the finger at three media organizations -- click here and here for that.

   Inner City Press asked Schulenburg about reports that SLPP supporters may stage protests. I don't that, Schulenburg said. "I'm not worried about this at all." Video here, from Minute 32:51.

  Schulenburg said he did not recognize the name of the US representative of the opposition SLPP. Outreach seems in order.

Footnote: In fact, with Ban Ki-moon slated to get another award, this time on June 17 at 630 p.m. at the St Regis Hotel in Manhattan, there is talk about a protest by people concerned with the UN's action and lack of action in Sri Lanka. Again, outreach -- and action, follow through -- seem in order. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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