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UN Dodges Press on Crackdowns in Sudan, Seeks To Cancel Noon Briefings, Spokesman Out for 40 Days?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visit to Korea greeted by artillery fire from the North, there are few answers from Ban's spokespeople in New York.

  They had no comment on crackdowns on the press in Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire, nor on protests of the UN in Nepal and even just across First Avenue by Haitians demanding reparations for the introduction of cholera.

   Even why Ban gave out the post of "Commissioner-General of the UN" to Samuel Koo in South Korea did not get an answer, twenty hours after it was asked at Tuesday's noon briefing.

  Nor, despite two requests from Inner City Press, has the UN been able to provide any information about Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro's month-long "official travel" in Tanzania.

  Now comes word that Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky is taking even more time off, reportedly from now until September 17. During this unheard of absence by a lead spokesman, Nesirky's acting deputy Farhan Haq is "canvassing" select reporters in order to say that they don't actually want the UN to hold noon briefings, despite events ranging from Syria to Yemen to Somalia and Sudan.

   Even though Haq runs "his" briefing in such a way that it takes less than ten minutes a day -- by limiting the Press to three questions, most of which are not answered -- even this is apparently too much, despite there being other people in the UN Office of the Spokesperson.

Haq at briefing on Haiti, responses to protests & Qs & crackdowns not shown

  Forget whether or not the UN will comment on crackdowns in Cote d'Ivoire or Bahrain: as an organization that has over 100,000 armed personnel out in the field, is it too much that they should stand and take questions for ten minutes a day, five days a week?

  Especially when, as of today, the UN has in place no chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as Alain Le Roy leaves as long ago announced, and the next Frenchman -- Jerome Bonnafont, Inner City Press reported six weeks ago -- is not in place, not even interviewed? We'll see.

Update: some Missions and Permanent Representative of the UN, even among the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, somewhat surprisinly watch the UN noon briefing on UN TV, and some have expressed surprise at the length of leave and move to shut off even the short televised briefings. But are the member states being canvassed? Who is being canvassed?  Watch this site.

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At UN, No Answers on Migiro's "Official Travels," Budget Chief Leaving, Ban's Job Gift to Koo

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 9 -- With the UN's two top officials both out of New York, their spokespeople are having trouble explaining what they are doing.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in South Korea, while Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro is listed on "official travel" from July 18 to August 16.
  Yet despite two requests from Inner City Press for an explanation of this "official" travel, not a single official UN act has been described.

  Nor does Ban's spokesperson's office, when asked, seem to know what Ban is doing in his native South Korea. On August 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about one of Ban's actions while away:

Inner City Press: Ban Ki-moon has named Samuel Koo as the UN Commissioner-General for the Yeosu Expo. This was in the South Korean press, and I just wanted to know, what is this Commissioner-General position? Is it a paid position? What’s this all about?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: It’s not an announcement that we have made from here. We’d have to check what the report is on this particular thing. It’s certainly not an appointment that we’ve announced from here, however. Have a good afternoon, all.

But for the rest of the afternoon, and evening, no answer at all was given. The Korea Herald had reported:

"U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Samuel Koo, a former U.N. official and journalist, as the U.N. commissioner-general for the 2012 Yeosu Expo... In Korea, Koo has also held posts related to culture, tourism and convention, including culture ambassador for the Foreign Ministry and president of Seoul Tourism. Koo now chairs the culture and tourism committee of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding."

   So Ban gave out a grandiose-sounding UN position without his spokespeople knowing, or even bothering to look into and provide an answer on for sixteen hours and counting. Koo was also at one time a UN correspondent, seeking information not without success from the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General in the past. And now?

   Meanwhile, Inner City Press has twice asked about DSG Migiro's month-long "official travel," first asking Ban's lead spokesman Martin Nesirky, who said he would look into it and provide an answer, then when he didn't, asking Haq on August 8:

Inner City Press: this was actually just kind of a follow-up. It’s something I had asked Martin last week, I don’t have an answer, so it’s not really a follow-up. It’s a reiterated question. Everyday in the Spokesperson’s Office there is a sheet saying that the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] is on official travel, and he’d said he’d look into it. I wanted to know, what is that official travel?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: She is on home leave. She is on home leave in [the United Republic of] Tanzania, but she does have some official functions and we’ll let you know about those as they come.

But a day and a half later and counting, not a single official act has been reported. Inner City Press followed up:

Inner City Press: what’s the distinction, because I have seen sometimes things listed as leave, but this has been a full month stated as official travel. What’s the distinction?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said, it is home leave, but it does include some official functions.

  What are those functions? Sources tell Inner City Press that the African Group of member states at the UN is being lobbied to get Ms. Migiro a second term, like Ban got. Others say there is a European for that position.

Ban's Koo per Korean Herald - answers from Ban's OSSG not shown

  When Ban came in, through his now long-time chief of staff he said that the expectation was that none of his officials would serve more than five years in their jobs. But many have been there longer now, with no move to replace them.

  There is a near total lack of transparency: Inner City Press has twice asked when Controller Jun Yamasaki is leaving, without answer.

  His job was already advertised in The Economist; another UN source tells Inner City Press Yamazaki is slated to leave on August 18, but might stay on for a month. But why won't the Secretariat answer these things?

   For the just-filed Iraq envoy post, Inner City Press reported that there were three candidates, all German. A regional Permanent Representative asked Inner City Press, "Which Germany will get it?" It's like Ban's UN has deemed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations a French post, with three candidates, all French. This is UN reform? Watch this site.

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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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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