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At UN, Ban's Fat Cuts Drown Ethnic Cleansing Questions, Stealth Sri Lanka Answers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- With the UN dodging questions about allowing ethnic cleansing in Pibor, South Sudan, Inner City Press on January 6 asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky whether the budget cuts Ban brags about were responsible for the UN's failure to record or broadcast questions asked the day before about the slaughter:

Inner City Press: yesterday when Mr. Ladsous finally did do a stakeout, there was no microphone for questions, so that when you watch it, all you have is Mr. Ladsous speaking. You have no idea what questions he was responding to, and I wonder, was it just a one-day slip up or is this reflective of the budget cuts that the Secretary-General made so much of having accomplished in December?

"Correspondent:" Great question, Matthew.

Inner City Press:I am asking, I mean, because it’s important. He was talking about Pibor and you have, even if he doesn’t answer the question that is asked, there is no way to know what question was asked. So it seems important [inaudible]…

Spokesperson: I think Mr. Ladsous could hear your questions clearly, and he answered the questions. Next, anything else? And I can hear you perfectly well in here at the moment.

Inner City Press: [inaudible]

  The above is the UN's own transcript. It is inaccurate: the sarcastic "Great question, Matthew," line which is attributed to a "correspondent" was actually said by the spokesman, Martin Nesirky, as the video shows. Was the mis-attribution on purpose, or reflective of deterioration at the UN? Will it be corrected?

   After the briefing, another correspondent complained that Nesirky shouldn't act like a wannbe school master, grading journalists' questions. But we digress.

  Later on January 6, Ban Ki-moon delivered some prepared jokes to some in the UN press corps and before applause and Prosecco toasts took four questions, on three topics (none of them about South Sudan and the slaughter). Ban thanked "the UN staff who have voluntarily agreed to my suggestion to cut our budget, cut the fat in our operational costs." Video here.

   Are functioning microphones, and people to work the boom mic, "fat"?

   Ironically, while Inner City Press was at that time covering an actually Security Council consultation about the African Union, and also repeatedly denied the opportunity to put questions to Ban, it was told that a call had gone out just before Ban spoke, for additional sound equipment, the special hardwood rostrum he usually orders rather than the simpler one used on Friday. But the Department of Public Information no longer wants to pay for the service; it was not provided. Fat, indeed.

  Of the questions Ban did take, one concerned the Strait of Hormuz (Nesirky has yet to answer Inner City Press' January 5 request that he confirm receipt of a letter to Ban from Indonesia's president on the topic), Syria (in which unlike South Sudan or the Congo, the UN does put out casualty figures) and Cyprus.

On Cyprus, Nesirky on January 5 was asked by Inner City Press:

Inner City Press: I also wanted to know, there have been reports in Cyprus, that the Greek-Cypriot leader, [Demetris] Christofias, is not, has indicated that he does not want to come in 22 to 24 January because of a deadlock on issues, that that might not take place. Given the United Nations role in those talks, has the United Nations been informed of that? Or is it “all systems go” for the talks?

Spokesperson: I have to check. I haven’t heard anything myself on that. You will have heard what I said yesterday, I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that the two sides have been meeting and plan to meet again. And that’s in preparation for the meeting, I think, the 23rd and 24th of January. Okay, other questions?

[The Spokesperson later added that the preparations continue with both leaders for the forthcoming Greentree, Long Island, meeting. He also noted the remarks by Special Adviser Alexander Downer after the most recent meeting:]

The bracketed answer was never emailed or conveyed to Inner City Press; it was simply inserted after the fact into the transcript. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked Nesirky and those in his office to e-mail it answers they "squawk" to the windowless cubicles some sit in, at least to questions that Inner City Press publicly asked. But it ontinues not to happen.

 At the January 6 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked a question about Sri Lanka and Nesirky did not answer it.

(c) UN Photo
Ban & Nesirky: disclosure of who pays for this year's plane not shown

  But a response was inserted hours later into the transcript, without even having been e-mailed to Inner City Press:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Sri Lanka, this is, there is reports that the two Jaffna Tamil activists who have gone missing and groups in Sri Lanka have petitioned the country representative, Mr. Subinay Nandy, to press the Government to, they believe they are in military detention. So I wanted to know, again because of the Secretary-General’s interest and I guess still studying this LLRC report, is he aware of that? And what’s the UN system, are they, have they communicated with the Government? Do they intend to look into the disappearance of these people?

Spokesperson: I have seen the same report that you have, Matthew, and I have asked for some assistance with that. I don’t have anything at the moment.

[The Spokesperson later said that this information had already been transmitted to the special procedures of the Human Rights Council for further inquiry.]

So: is e-mailing a response to the journalist who asked the question just more "fat" to be cut by Ban Ki-moon? And who is paying for Ban's traveling in his upcoming trips? Nesirky has been asked to make such disclosures, but has yet to. Watch this site.

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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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