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At UN, Ban Lunches with Reporters, Menu Includes Corruption, Maybe Congo

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 31, 11:45 am -- What's in a lunch? For a week now, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been holding lunch meetings with groups of four to five journalists at a time.

 These come after attacks on Ban for a failure to fight corruption in the UN, following by the scandal of the UN's inaction as 154 women were raped 20 miles from one of its peacekeeping bases in the Congo.

  At the August 27 UN noon briefing, two journalists not invited to the lunches inquired into Ban's criteria for issuing invitations, and afterward linked the lunches to an attempt by Ban to improve his image with an eye toward winning a second term. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky returned fire, figuratively, at the journalists.

  Inner City Press has been invited to lunch with Ban later today. Neither in the invitation nor subsequent back and forth was the lunch described as off the record. (This report is being written and published an hour before the lunch, for the record.) Inner City Press asked who else would be present, but has not been told.

  At least at the first of the lunches, Under Secretary General for Management Angela Kane was present, and the charges in former USG Inga Britt Ahlenius and her stinging End of Assignment Report were discussed.

   Will Ms. Kane be present at the August 31 session? Inner City Press asked, but was not told. A session later last week included Ban's speechwriter Michael Meyer, as well as spokesman Nesirky.

   We return and will return to the question, what are these lunches for?

UN's Ban and Kane at a previous lunch, on record response on Congo not shown

  A member of Team Ban has said he likes to meet the press. Ban is certainly cordial: earlier on Tuesday on his way into the General Assembly's meeting on human trafficking, he greeted Inner City Press, amid glad handing with many ambassadors. But he rarely speaks on the record, for example on the Congo rape scandal. Will he, at the lunch?

  Some of Ban's better moment have been off the record. He gave a speech full of jokes, in the photo op room next to his office. Inner City Press was told not to film it, not to report it. He told a story about landing in Afghanistan - off the record. His handlers don't seem to know what they are doing. We'll see. Watch this site.

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At UN, Russia Month Ends With Pilots Taken in Darfur, Congo Rape Meeting Deferred

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- While Russia's envoy to Sudan Mikhail Margelov complains loudly about the second hostage taking of Russian pilots in Darfur in a month, outgoing Security Council president Vitaly Churkin on Monday advised the Press not to make too much of the kidnappings.

   Inner City Press asked if this was a trend. The first incident, Churkin countered, was resolved, and the pilot went on vacation.  It was never announced who had taken him.

   Still, Churkin said he had met Monday morning with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the pilots, asking for the UNAMID mission to get involved. Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the pilots at Monday's noon briefing. Nesirky did not disclose Ban's meeting with Churkin, which was not on Ban's schedule.

   Nesirky said, in response to another Inner City Press question, that Ban's 10:30 meeting with Margot Wallstrom about the Congo rapes had been postponed until the afternoon. (Atul Khare, it emerges won't be back to brieif the Council until September 8.)

  Nesirky said the Russian pilots were working for a private Sudanese company. But wasn't it working for UNAMID? Maybe, Nesirky said, maybe they were transporting food for peacekeepers. It is all murky.

 One wonders why it was never announced who took the first Russian pilot, Yevgeni Mustovchikov, and why DPKO's Alain Le Roy never got or passed on any "full understanding of the facts" behind the violence in the Kalma Camp. As with the Congo rapes, lack of accountability breeds impunity leads to repetition of the actions.

Beyond the danger to the pilots who are kidnapped, if as many believe government supported militias are behind the kidnappings, could their repetition trigger some change in Russia's position on Sudan?

We are slow to change our position, a Russian diplomat told Inner City Press after the TV lights were off.

UN's Ban (& Kim) & Churkin in Red Sq. March 2010, pilots not shown

  The next stop would be Russia's End of Presidency reception. Russia in August wanted a slow month in the Security Council, with a small party at the end. They got the Congo rape scandal and, it was promised, jovial gate crashers.

  For September, the Council president passes to Turkey, who Permanent Representative has been reviewed unfavorably, if off the record, by his Foreign Minister. This will be his chance to shine.

   In briefings for his nation's media, the Ambassador is known to defer to reporters, saying they know more than he does. One cannot imagine this from Churkin. For those following the story, former spokesman Ruslan is said to have found a better job with the Ministry back in Moscow.

France's Deputy Permanent Representative Nicolas de Riviere is setting sail, to cover international organizationss at the Quai d'Orsay. He will be replaced by Martin Briens -- and he'll be supervising, in a sense, his old boss Gerard Araud. It is musical chairs in the Council.

In terms of the next Council members coming in, South Africa says it will be running unopposed. Some said the same of Colombia, but now there's word of another candidate, probably from Central America and to the Left. Que empienzan los juegos -- let the games begin. Watch this site.

 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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