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On Way to Myanmar and Than Shwe, Banning the Press at UN

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 20, updated 8:45 p.m. -- Myanmar's general Than Shwe, who has repeatedly refused to take telephone calls from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will reportedly meet with Ban later this week. This was announced by Ban in a carefully choreographed appearance at the Security Council stakeout on Tuesday morning. Before Ban arrived, his personal rostrum was set up, complete with glass of water covered with a white napkin with UN logo.

   Then one of his spokespeople came down, to tell the press that only "one or two questions" would be taken, and to whisper to technicians that some media -- one reporter in particular -- should not be given a chance to ask a question. This is hitting a new low of control and censorship, but who's counting? What's not yet clear is if Ban himself is aware of these shameful snubs on press freedom. There is at least one such attack, in connection with his trip to Myanmar, of which he is known to be aware. We'll see.

Ban and his rostrum, control of questions not shown - but known?

            In his prepared remarks, read from notes, Ban announced that the UN has permission for the use of nine World Food Program helicopters. He said that 25% of those needing help are being served; others use a figure of 10%. As Ban spoke, UK Foreign Minister David Miliband and France's human rights minister Rama Yade waited to the side. When Ban finished, technicians under the watchful eye of UN media staff quickly unplugged Ban's rostrum and moved it to the side. No one else can be seen behind it. The rostrum, with its sticker from, is meant to convey authority.  Who knew that this is only maintained by affirmatively trying to freeze particular questions, or reporters, out?

Footnote: Minister Miliband spoke of the concern of "European nations" for "Myanmar and Burma." Once inside the Security Council chamber, he called it simply Myanmar. Rama Yade spoke in English, then was reminded by Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert and his team to say it again in French.

  Minister Miliband, before Rama Yade spoke, said "we'll [or will] be able to answer your questions after the meeting." Video here, at Minute 2:07. It is pointed out that Ms. Yade herself never promised to return to answer questions -- on that, we stand corrected. Of course, the press had been alerted that she would be at the stakeout after 9:30 and before 9:45; the assumption that this would include answering some questions was apparently misplaced. There are some questions to be asked, and one day soon they will be. 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

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