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UN Ban's Office Withholds Answers on NY Safety, No Response on Congo Corruption

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 16 -- For UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office to have no information, or say it has no information, to respond to Press questions has become the norm.

  But on April 16, alongside unanswered questions on the Congo, Sudan, Timor Leste and other topics, Ban's spokesperson's office went further. Hours after Inner City Press asked for a direct response to a question about the delay of an ambulance entering the UN, the Office provided a vague denial then said that the full reply would be given the next day, not to Inner City Press but at the day's noon briefing.

  This is strange because Inner City Press didn't ask the question at the noon briefing, and explicitly asked for a direct response. It is also purposelessly inconvenient, as a briefing about Sudan of the Security Council by UN official Haile Menkerios and Thabo Mbeki begins at 11:30 am Tuesday.

  Does Ban's spokesperson's office not want Inner City Press to be present to ask a follow up question? Or does it have another motive for withholding from Inner City Press an answer to a question it asked, in order to later give it (first) at the noon briefing? We'll have more on this.

  For now, is the question Inner City Press e-mailed to Ban's two two spokesmen, their answer and Inner City Press' reply, followed by excerpts from the April 16 noon briefing with questions not answered.

  Inner City Press asked, in writing:

"Hello - This is a request, in the context of a troubling / exclusive story, for the UN's response to staff complaints that earlier today when an NYC Ambulance came to respond to an audio technician collapsing some 100 feet from the Security Council, the ambulance was delayed at the First Avenue gate:

'when an ambulance and fire truck arrived at the UN on First Avenue they were told that only fire trucks could come in, not ambulances... a UN Security officer closest to the technician's collapse on Monday had a walkie-talkie which reportedly did not function. Finally, the UN Security guard at the First Avenue gate said he would take it on himself and allow the ambulance in. Even then, the emergency medical technicians were led through the Visitors' Tent, leading to further delay.'

"As raised at today's noon briefing, I have other questions. But this is a request for your / DSS' response, an email in reply to this question, as quickly as possible."

Four hours later, after Inner City Press learned from whistleblowing UN staff even more about the incident, including the first name of the seizure victim and what hospital he is in, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office sent this (non) response:

Subject: Re: Your question
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 6:31 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

There was no delay in allowing the ambulance personnel into the premises once they arrived at the correct location. We will provide a full reply at the noon briefing tomorrow.

Inner City Press immediately replied:

"But tomorrow at noon I will be covering the Thabo Mbeki / Haile Menkerios briefing of the Security Council about the two Sudans. I asked your Office a question, asking for a response: hours later you send a vague denial and say you will give the full answer to at the noon briefing. I neither understand nor agree with this strange way of replying. Please explain asap."

But to this there was no response or explanation. To defer to the next day's noon briefing a response to an e-mailed question the day before, while not answering questions that were asked at that day's noon briefing about Timor L'este and the Congo, for example, seems more than a little strange. From the April 16 noon briefing transcript of the UN:

Inner City Press: Sure, I want to, about Timor and the Congo. I saw the Secretary-General’s statement on the election in Timor-Leste and it looks like the winner is José Maria de Vasconcelos. He used to be a guerrilla leader who actually appears in UN reports as recommended for prosecution for illegal transfer of weapons, and so I wonder, the Secretary-General’s congratulations, is he aware of this previous past of the individual and one, is he saying that that’s now entirely forgotten, or is there no follow through by the UN system on its own recommendation for prosecution of this individual?

Deputy Spokesperson Del Buey: I’ll have to check on that Matthew, I don’t have anything on it.

And six hours later when the transcript went up, there was still not answer, nor any commitment to provide an answer. The UN report Inner City Press cites is in paragraph 134 of S/2006/822 --

134. F-FDTL weapons. The evidence relating to the unlawful movement, possession and use of F-FDTL weapons is described in paragraphs 95 and 96 and demonstrates that those weapons were distributed by and/or with the knowledge and approval of the following persons: Roque Rodrigues, Taur Matan Ruak, Tito da Costa Cristovão, aka Lere Anan Timor, Manuel Freitas, aka Mau Buti, and Domingos Raul, aka Rate Laek Falur. The Commission recommends that these persons be prosecuted for illegal weapons transfer. The Commission recommends further that of the persons who received the F-FDTL weapons on 24 and 25 May, only those who used the weapons in subsequent criminal activity be prosecuted. This includes, for example, Oan Kiak, who used a F-FDTL weapon during the incident at Mercado Lama on 25 May. Should a decision be taken to prosecute all individuals who received weapons for unlawful possession, the Commission holds records identifying these persons.

So why couldn't or wouldn't Ban's spokesperson's office answer this question, while withholding an answer to the ambulance question? Likewise on the Congo, a story Inner City Press published three days ago on April 13, still no response from Ban's spokesperson's office:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask on the Congo, maybe you will have something, maybe DPKO will have something on this.  There is a controversy in MONUSCO in eastern Congo, Walikale, the town where there was mass rapes and allegedly with inaction of MONUSCO at the time.  There was a quick implementation or quick-impact project set up, five grinding mills into Walikale to somehow make life better there, but I am informed that four of the five mills were never installed, and that basically money has been wasted, they are rotting, rusting, and I just wonder, since this was a high-profile thing at one time, with the UN trying to make good in Walikale, what’s the status of that project and why has there been no follow-through?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, Matthew, you will understand I have to check into that for you; I don’t have that information with me.

Three days after the article, nothing; six hours after the briefing, nothing. But on April 13, lead spokesman Martin Nesirky claims that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had provided an answer and explanation, about the use of private military contractors, which DPKO had not and still has not provided:

Inner City Press: Sure, I wanted to ask you — I’d asked you before — about this idea of whether the UN, particularly MONUSCO, hires private military contractors and I have since become aware of three contracts with Saracen Uganda, which is widely described as a private military contractor. It is to provide, they say, unarmed security in, in Entebbe and in Kampala. But, what I wanted to know is the following: doesn’t MONUSCO have its own peacekeepers and even a DSS component? What’s the rationale for a UN peacekeeping mission hiring outside security that some people call mercenaries and some don’t, and how does it just, how does it comply with GA resolutions and other UN statements about the use of mercenaries?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, I think, with all due respect, Matthew, nobody except you is using that word, because this is, this is something that DPKO has explained very clearly to you already, and you are bringing it here to raise it again.

Inner City Press: I will tell you, I have asked all week for them to explain it. All they confirm is that Saracen was hired, and in terms of them being mercenaries, I can tell you for a fact that the Somalia-Eritrea sanctions committee viewed, had issues with them performing, for, in Somalia, so I am just asking…

Spokesperson: Well, let me just…

Inner City Press: it’s been a week; I am waiting. What is the statement? What is the clear statement of why the UN hires private security?

Spokesperson: Well, as I say, DPKO have addressed that, and let’s also just understand that the people we are talking about, this company, those people are being used to control access, in other words, at the entrances to the UN facilities that are in Uganda. We are not talking about inside the DRC. And also, it is important to note that those people are unarmed. That’s what I believe you have already been told. I don’t have anything further on that.

Inner City Press: Given that the company is owned by the President’s brother of Uganda, can you understand why? Maybe you can try to say it’s only me, but, in fact, it is not, that there are some concerns of the UN hiring, seemingly unnecessarily, an outside private military contractor owned by the relative of the president of the country they are in.

Spokesperson: As I say, Matthew, I think DPKO, Peacekeeping Operations, have responded to you.

In fact, DPKO never explained Saracen, and on the wider question said five days ago, without update, that "On private security more generally, I am still following up." Where is the follow up?

The April 16 UN noon briefing ended surreally, making it seem pointless to attend the rest of the week:

Inner City Press: I want to ask a procedural question. It seem like a lot of the questions weren’t answered; you said 'I don’t have anything on that.' Is there some way to know the answers that you do have?

Deputy Spokesperson: Ask the questions.

Inner City Press: Okay. All right, do you have anything on Latin America?

Deputy Spokesperson: What would you like to know?

Inner City Press: Any comment on the failure of the Summit of the Americas to come up with a statement? I mean, I guess we can go hit and guess, but if you prepare a statement, let’s just hear it.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well no, no — look, Matthew, this is a briefing at which we provide you with information of what the Secretariat is doing and we take a few questions every day.

Inner City Press: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: If you want to talk about the situation in Latin America, again, the Summit of the America is under the aegis of the Organization of American States, they run it, you might want ask them for their comments on how they see the outcome of that Summit.

Inner City Press: How about Guinea-Bissau? Do you have an if-asked on Guinea-Bissau? It seems like there was readout of the Secretary-General’s call with the Foreign Minister of Portugal where he said he had immediately condemned the coup, but some people noticed he didn’t immediately put out a statement once the military did what it did. Was this a recognition by the Secretariat that initially it wasn’t a coup? What’s the current understanding of the Secretariat on the situation in Guinea-Bissau?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, let me read to you what I have.

Inner City Press: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Basically, what the Secretary-General said was that he was in close contact with the SRSG in Guinea-Bissau, and they were determining what the course of events were. The course of events have been very fast-flowing, and when we have something else for you, we will get it to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that his Office had issued the following statement on Friday, 13 April:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the unconstitutional seizure of power by the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau on 12 April. This action occurred as the people of Guinea-Bissau were preparing to go to the polls on 29 April to vote for a new President. The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the reported arrest and detention of key public officials. He calls on the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau to immediately and unconditionally release all detainees and ensure the safety and security of the general population, as well as of members of the international community in Guinea-Bissau.

The Secretary-General underscores the need for the Armed Forces and its leadership to respect civilian authority, constitutional order and the rule of law, as well as to take urgent and immediate steps to return the country to civilian rule. He urges the people of Guinea-Bissau to remain calm and to refrain from violence or acts of vandalism during this period. He reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support the constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau in ensuring sustainable peace and stability in the country.]

Inner City Press: Do you have anything on Heglig? This is my last question, you had a readout about attacks by Sudan in South Sudan -- actually, there may be more of this, Warrap State, they are saying was also attacked, but do you have anything the other way, if I were to say to you what is the status of South Sudan being in Heglig, would you remain alarmed?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we are not going to submit on a daily basis to complete interrogation. I have given you what I have given you on Sudan, and that’s basically all we have to say, okay?

  No - not okay. Watch this site.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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