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At UN, Team Ban's Culture of Secrecy, Exclusion and Amnesia, Hiding in Plain Sight

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 11 -- The UN's Ban Ki-moon, or more precisely his team, have developed two main ways to be secretive. The first was on display on November 10, when the Press was excluded from Ban's meeting with member states regarding the Congo, Asia and the Middle East. Hours before the meeting, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas why the meeting was closed. She responded, in essence, no harm - no foul, because the next day, like the President of the General Assembly, "the Secretary-General himself will be here, too," to answer questions. Video here, from Minute 39:45.

  The second strategy was on display at this press conference: Ban was hiding in plain sight. Some 18 questions were allowed to be directed at him, all hand-chosen by Ms. Montas. But Ban dodged nearly all the questions, in some cases offering a simple bland sentence after which the room stayed silent, as if to say, "Is this all there is?"

  Despite what she said the day previous, Montas did not allow any questions about Monday's closed door meeting. Perhaps she has amnesia. Or perhaps Team Ban believes that the best way to maintain secrecy is to not allow any questions about it.

  There is little new to summarize from the answers Ban did give. He confirmed what was already known, that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is asking for 3000 extra troops for the Congo. In response to most questions, he simply recited the name of the UN's envoy to the country: Zannier for Kosovo, Haile Menkerios for Zimbabwe, Kai Eide for Afghanistan, as if these constituted answers. He had clearly been prepared for the Congo and Kosovo questions, on the latter in a way belated intended to get back into Russia's graces. Most think it is probably too late.

  Here are some of the questions that were not allowed:

Tomorrow's event is called the Culture of Peace, but I want to ask you about your UN's Culture of Secrecy. Yesterday your meeting with the General Assembly was closed. I asked why but heard no compelling reason. Can you summarize what the member states told you, and your response?  Of your 100 top officials 36 refused to make any public financial disclosure, and some are not even listed on your web site, such as Terje Roed Larsen, who is said to have a role in tomorrow's event.

  We stop to add that this failure to file and disclose is particularly outrageous given that the Saudi government, pushing a Sunni agenda, provides funding to Mr. Roed Larsen, who then traipses about the Middle East particularly Lebanon, using his UN position to promote Saudi views. This would have to be included in his public financial disclosure, which perhaps explains him not filing it. But why does Ban allow it?

UN's Ban and Blair, who has made no public financial disclosure

  Secrecy in Ban's UN has reached such a point that his recent talk at an event launching the South Korean Millennium Village Project was closed to the press. On Tuesday, no questions were allowed on the topic. Nor was this allowed:

Late last year you stressed that the UN must be seen as impartial. But in recent days, UN staff and peacekeepers have been the targets of protest in the Congo and Haiti, and of another bombing in Somalia. What steps are you taking to make sure the UN is not perceived as inordinately taking sides, with President Kabila and his undisciplined FARDC or the Somali Transitional Federal Government?

  This last, it is said, played a role in the deadly bombing of UN premises in Somalia. Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas for an update on what the UN knows about who did the bombing and why, but none has been provided. On November 10, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas about the theft of an official UN-painted vehicle in Kabul, which many think may re-surface as a car bomb.

  On camera, Ms. Montas said there was no confirmation of the theft. Minutes later, obviously off camera, her Office emailed Inner City Press confirming the theft of the car.  Another secrecy gambit: don't allow negative material in the propaganda room, and hope that secrecy brings about a second term.

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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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