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UN's Ban Tells Only Some Media of Myanmar Chance, Bad Press Left Behind?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 28 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reportedly still undecided if he will stop in Myanmar on his upcoming trip to Japan, Ban's press office has nevertheless quietly selected the journalists who would be allowed to cover his visit with the country's military rulers.

  Until now, the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General has informed at least all resident correspondents at the UN of the possibility of a trip, and to apply if they are interested in going.

  This time, Ban's office refused to confirm when asked by the Press that he would go to Myanmar, while behind the scenes pre-selecting which journalists would be allowed to accompany him.

   Some see this is a reaction to the increasingly negative media coverage Ban has been receiving. As Inner City Press asked Ban during his last press conference, the Economist rated him three out of ten on speaking truth to power.

  Specifically raised was his performance in Sri Lanka where, as covered by Inner City Press, Ban smiled as Tamil children detained by the government were made to sing his name. The goal, some surmise, is to try to avoid that kind of coverage in the future.

   Even Charlie Rose, television's friendliest interviewer, last week asked Ban about his failing grades. Ban responded by saying that he had saved 500,000 people in Myanmar. Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas where this figure came from. The number of people in need, she said, when Ban last visited Myanmar.

   There was another side to Ban's agreement, of course: that Than Shwe's regime took 25% of all aid money by requiring conversion through Foreign Exchange Certificates whose value the government controlled, as exposed by Inner City Press and then others.

UN's Ban and Myanmar's Than Shwe, critical press coverage not welcome

   With Aung San Suu Kyi being tried for the non-consensual visit of a groupie, facing extended detention, and amid reports that Myanmar is seeking to illegally import weapons from North Korea, Ban's current Myanmar envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Myanmar in order to provide a briefing to Ban.

   African Ambassadors to the UN have told Inner City Press that Ban recent offered by Gambari to replace Rodolphe Adada as envoy in Sudan, calling into question either Ban's or Gambari's commitment to Myanmar.

  But the "insides' game" to pre-select the journalists who would be allowed to cover Ban in Myanmar may further call into question this UN's commitment to free press.

   Those not informed of the change included not only Inner City Press, but another of the three media organizations which Ban's management chief, spokesperson, speechwriter and Under Secretaries General for public information and legal affairs met about on May 8, with an eye toward legal action and constructive censorship, click here for that story. And watch this site.

Footnote: Some claim that the UN made the list based off those who asked about Myanmar. During Ban's last visit to Myanmar, his Office allowed the Than Shwe regime to blacklist media which the UN had already invited to come. This may be a new stage, in which the UN asks the regime who they would like to come, rather than making all UN correspondents aware of the opportunity.

On June 25, Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Montas

Inner City Press:On Myanmar, the Government has said that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is in the air and will be there. Can you confirm that? And what is the process, if he is going there... to brief the Secretary-General? Is it determined that the Secretary-General will go?

Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is going to meet with Mr. Gambari, as soon as Mr. Gambari comes to New York, and this is before the Secretary-General takes off for Japan next Monday. So he will be reporting this weekend to the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: He was on Charlie Rose last night. Is that correct?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Inner City Press: Among other things, I heard him to say in Myanmar, he saved 500,000 people. What’s the basis for that number?

Spokesperson: The basis is the number of people that were in need at the time when he obtained the access for humanitarian workers into Myanmar.

* * *

UN Runs Scared of Sri Lanka, Says National Staff Not Immune -- But Genocide Suspects Are

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 26 -- As the Sri Lankan government locked up an astrologer who dared make predictions that President Rahinda Rajapaksa didn't like, the UN in New York stayed silent. Inner City Press asked, for the third time, what is being done about the two UN staff members who were grabbed up by the government using unmarked vehicles.

   Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq said he was aware of the question, but that they still have no answer. Inner City Press asked, isn't it the UN's position that its staff members have immunity? Haq acknowledged that it normally the position. But why not in Sri Lanka?

   In fact, the UN Mission in Kosovo actively invoked immunity on June 26 in favor of a person changed with genocide. When Agim Ceku was arrested in Bulgaria, based on an Interpol warrant, it is reported that a UN documentary showing was made in order to get Ceku released. Inner City Press asked Haq about this as well on Friday. Haq said to ask the UNMIK mission.

   Inner City Press immediately put questions to them, but has received no answer. Immunity for those charged with war crimes and genocide, but no defense of immunity for UN staff in Sri Lanka. Why not?

Kosovo's Ceku and UN flag, get out of jail free card not shown in Sri Lanka

   At the Security Council on June 26, speeches went on all day about the protection of civilians. While the UN's top humanitarian John Holmes appeared to downplay Sri Lanka in his initial testimony, other than saying that "the weapons have finally -- and thankfully -- fallen silent in Sri Lanka," the underlying report notes its in 30th paragraph the

"repeated use of heavy weapons by Sri Lankan armed forces in attacks on area containing large numbers of civilians, including the so-called 'no-fire zones,' with reports of multiple strikes on medical facilities."

   Even though the report went on about LTTE refusal to let civilians go, Sri Lanka in the Security Council debate criticized the report. Holmes in his rebuttal was conciliatory, but said that the definition of armed conflict comes from international jurisprudence and applies to Sri Lanka.

   When Holmes emerged from the Security Council at 6:30 p.m., Inner City Press waited to ask him a few questions. "You've got to be kidding," he began, before to his credit answering four questions.

   Did he or the UN do anything about the MV Ali ship of humanitarian aid that was blocked by Sri Lanka? No, Holmes said. But he's heard that it may be unloaded in India and thence to Sri Lanka. This has yet to happened.

   Any update on the detained doctors? No, Holmes said.

   What about the disbanding of the inquiry into the killing of, among others, the 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers? Holmes said the UN had yet to receive formal notification of the disbanding, and might comment if and when notification is provided.

   What about the detained staff? Holmes said the UN is asking. Aren't they immune? Only international staff are, Holmes said. We will have more on this.

* * *

Ex-UN's Jan Egeland Describes "Horror" In Sri Lanka, Says R2P Has Failed, UN Silent

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- While current UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes has commended the Sri Lankan government for how they are running the UN-funded camps where they have detained 300,000 Tamil civilians, his predecessor Jan Egeland on Tuesday told the Press that we can "safely assume... horrors" in the treatment of "women in Sri Lanka, Tamils," due to the continuing denial of access not only to humanitarian review but also "witnesses." Video here, from Minute 26:06.

   Last week Inner City Press asked for the UN's and Holmes' response to the Sri Lanka government barring even UN workers from bringing cameras into the internment camps. There was no response, nor to the disbanding of the investigation into killings such as that of 17 Action Contre la Faim aid workers near Kilinochchi.

   On June 22 and again on June 24, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about two UN system staffers grabbed up by the government, by plain clothes men in unmarked vehicles. Even though the UN in Colombo belatedly admitted what happened, Ban's spokesperson on June 24 told the Press "we are trying to get information on what happened, got your question yesterday." Video here, from Minute 10:10.

   But it happened ten days ago, and was asked about on June 22. To many, it begins to be part of the cover-up.

   Egeland was in New York for a UN Colloquium on Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Peace Negotiations. Inner City Press asked for his view of the UN's performance this year in Sri Lanka. "Sri Lanka is the latest example of the world community letting a government get away with denying access, to witnesses, humanitarian relief, protection of civilians," Egeland said.

At but no longer of the UN, Jan Egeland says R2P failed in Sri Lanka

   He said that the Responsibility to Protest, enacted by the UN in 2005, was "not upheld in Sri Lanka, the heads of state have failed." He predicted that conflict will brew because injustice is occurring. He added, that he was not saying this as a UN official, that he is now with the Norwegian Institute on International Affairs.

    In the run up to the Colloquium, two current UN officials came to speak to the Press. Sri Lanka was raised by Inner City Press, and the UN Development Program briefer answered and then said, "that is all off the record."

  Why can't the UN speak on the record about Sri Lanka, as staff are disappeared and civilians killed and locked up?

  Why is it only an ex-UN official who can admit that on Sri Lanka, the UN emperor has no clothes? Watch this site.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 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.

* * *

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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