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UN's Ban Says "Assured" of Fair Burmese Elections, Despite Junta's Constitution

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 3-4 -- After the first of what may be two meetings with Burmese strongman Than Shwe, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the reporters he picked to travel with him, "I was assured that the Myanmar authorities will make sure that this election will be held in a fair and free and transparent manner."

   As simply one example, since the constitution the junta pushed through in the wake of Cycle Nargis in May 2008 provides that fully one-quarter of seats must go to military members, it is difficult to see how an election under it could be described as fair.

   Unnamed UN officials -- in New York the UN has still refused to confirm even which officials are traveling with Ban -- are quoted that the general are considering endorsing "allowing the National League for Democracy to open offices across the country and to permit her to campaign," referring to the imprisoned and on trial Aung San Suu Kyi. There is only one problem: the junta's constitution prohibits anyone who ever married a foreigner, as Mrs. Suu Kyi did, from running for office.

UN's Ban and Than Shwe: assurance of fair election, under sham Constitution

   Myanmar is not, however, isolated from the whole world. It is reportedly seeking to import more weapons from North Korea, and it on the record gave $50,000 to President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, perhaps in tribute to him having done to the Tamil Tigers and civilians what Than Shwe would like to do with Karen rebels and civilians.

  The UN, of course, continued unabated seeking to raise donor funds for Myanmar, with the attendant run off through current exchange to Than Shwe's regime, without any question about Myanmar turning around and giving post bloodbath aid to Sri Lanka. Nor has the UN tried to track the use of Nigeria's $500,000 grant to Myanmar, on which Inner City Press exclusively reported.

   Ban's deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe, who is along on the trip, is quoted telling the reporters whom she identified for the trip that Ban will have a second meeting with Than Shwe. (It is not clear why Ms. Okabe or her Office could not have conveyed this announcement to other UN reporters).

   In the air is that Ban might then pull a rabbit out of the hat. But what if the rabbit is dead? Watch this site.

Footnote: as Inner City Press reported June 28 and was confirmed by Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas on June 29, Ban's office hand-picked which journalists would be told of the opportunity to cover his trip to Burma. Ms. Montas first said that the UN "picked people who were willing to pool for others." On July 2, when Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas when these pool reports would begin, she reversed course and argued that "I said some of them were willing to pool, some of them... There is no print pooling, no."

  Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas to confirm the information in a list it has seen, that there are at least 22 UN personnel in Ban's traveling party, ranging from political chief Lynn Pascoe and deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo to Hak-Fan Lau, to whom reporters on Ban's previous UN mission to Burma gave at least some pooled material. "I can check for you," Ms. Montas answered. By 6 p.m. on July 3 in New York, no information was provided. Watch this site.

* * *

UN's Ban "Appreciates" Than Shwe's Actions in Burma, Scam Election on Horizon

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 --UN's Ban Ki-moon told Burmese military leader Than Shwe on July 3, "I'd like to appreciate your commitment to move your country forward." Since Cyclone Nargis hit the Irradwaddy Delta in May 2008, Shwe has used the displacement it occasioned to give land under what used to be fishing villages to his regime's cronies.

  While to some that is "moving [the] country forward," to others it is the antithesis of the type of development the UN should be praising. While unlikely, perhaps Ban meant that while he would like to appreciate Shwe's actions, in good faith he cannot.

  Inner City Press is told by well placed UN sources that, even beyond the currency exchange scams through which the UN allowed up to one quarter of post cyclone donor funds to be taken outright by Burma's junta, the UN Country Team continues to subsidize the dictatorship by, for example, accepting requirements to buy certain equipment in-country at inflated prices.

  While some argue that the UN stays silent out of commitment to remain serving Burma's poor, the staged theatrics of Ban's current trip lead others to see a darker, more mixed motive.

  "Ban desperately needs the appears of a win at this time," Inner City Press was told July 2 by a UN official who requested anonymity from fear of retaliation. "The generals in Naypyitaw know that, and they are using Ban's desperation to legitimatize the fixed election they plan for 2010."

  The official characterized the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi as a less fundamental issue, one on which Ban might be allowed to claim some victory such as her transfer from Insein Prison back to house arrest, or a commit to later full release. Such a commitment, if the past is any guide, could later be rescinded, as could the release of lower profile political prisoners during Ban's current two day trip. Who knows -- maybe Ban will claim credit for the adjournment today of Suu Kyi's trial for a week.

UN's Ban in Singapore July 2, preparing smile for Myanmar

   The stated rationale was the failure of a Burmese (kangaroo) appeals court to return to court the file along with its decision barring two of Suu Kyi four proposed witnesses from testifying. Perhaps as his entourage claims, Ban's quiet diplomacy and soft power work in mysterious ways. Watch this site.

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As UN's Ban Lands in Burma, Kibuki Theater Omits Rohinya and Karen Peoples

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- With news of his airplane's touch-down in Yangon, the carefully stage managed visit to Myanmar of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon began on July 3. To a group of accompanying reporters whom he had hand-picked, Ban called his task difficult but necessary. The media dutifully performed their electronic drum roll, as for a magician before he performs a sleight of hand.

   Clearly, Ban's current envoy Ibrahim Gambari got some commitments for photo-ops for Ban during his preparatory trip to Myanmar. These predetermined win-wins were withheld from, and apparently not obtained by, the accompanying media. Thus fresh from Ban's stop in Japan the kibuki theater began: a widely reported challenge with a preplanned denouement. But could he flub up even this?

   Of the accompanying wire services, two of the three -- or with Yonhap was it four? -- quoted Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch on what would constitute success, or failure, on this trip. Might Ban meet with Aung San Suu Kyi? Might she nonetheless be sentenced to further house arrest? Why is she being barred from the 2010 election?

   Beyond the Aung San Suu Kyi show, about about the Karen people? Even more oppressed, what about the Rohinya?

UN's Ban, pre-Myanmar, in Japan: let the kibuki theater begin

  The UN's Ibrahim Gambari told Inner City Press that the Rohinya, Muslims long in Burma but denied citizens' rights, are beyond the scope of this "good offices" mandate.

  Ironically, an Afro-Arab UN Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press that Gambari wanted but was passed over for the job of UN envoy to Darfur because as a Muslim he was viewed by Western power as too pro Sudan. That his name was put forward for the Sudan job shows what an afterthought Myanmar is -- until Ban Ki-moon is desperate for the appearance of a win. He has chosen the reporters, and has hidden the Gambari-won hole card. But might the game still not work out? Watch this site.

* * *

With Only Ban-Picked Press Allowed on UN's Burma Trip, Promised Pooling Denied, Theater with Than Shwe

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 2 -- As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon approaches Myanmar to meet with its military leader Than Shwe, information about his performance on the trip became even harder to come by. On June 29, Ban's spokesperson Ms. Montas told Inner City Press that the UN in hand selected the reporters who could accompany Ban "picked people who were willing to pool for others."

   On July 2, when Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas when these pool reports would begin, she reversed course and said that only TV images would be pooled, no print. Video here, from Minute 19:07.

   Even on Ban's first trip to Myanmar, when he says he saved 500,000 people, wire service reporters gave information from their notes to a UN staffer named Hak-Fan Lau, who is also on this trip, for dissemination to other reporters who cover the UN. Faced with a spate of negative publicity, Team Ban is providing even less information now than then. Some surmise this is an attempt to control coverage.

   Ms. Montas told Inner City Press to wait to see what the reporters with Ban published. "We gave priority to wires... three or four, sorry, three are traveling with the Secretary General."

UN's Ban in Singapore July 2 with 2 of the 3 - or 4? - wires, pool not shown

   The confusion between three or four wires appears to depend on whether South Korea-based Yonhap, which was selected to go, is considered a global wire service. AP, Reuters and AFP are all on the trip, as is a correspondent from the New York Times. Another major U.S.-based daily, which along with two other media organizations the UN met about on May 8 with an eye toward suing, was not allowed to go.

   Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas to confirm the information in a list it has seen, that there are at least 22 UN personnel in Ban's traveling party, ranging from political chief Lynn Pascoe and deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo to the aforesaid Hak-Fan Lau. "I can check for you," Ms. Montas answered. By 6 p.m. on July 2 in New York, no information was provided. The UN in New York is closed for holidays both July 3 and 4 when Ban is in Myanmar. Still, watch this site.

* * *

On Myanmar, UN's Ban "Not Talking About the Trial," Hand Picks Press Coverage

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 29 -- Myanmar's courts have barred two of Aung San Suu Kyi's four witnesses, just as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced he will travel to the country on July 3-4. In New York, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas if Ban has any comment on the barring of these two witnesses, Win Tin and Tin Oo of the National League for Democracy.
   Ms. Montas said of Ban, "He's not talking about the trial right now." Video here, from Minute 17:23.

    Inner City Press asked, since in previous trip Ms. Montas' office had informed all UN resident correspondence of such trips and allow them to ask to accompany the Secretary General, if that was done in the case of Myanmar and if not, why not. Montas admitted that it was not done. She said that from among "people who had expressed interest" they "picked people willing to pool for others."

    Since Inner City Press has asked numerous questions about the UN and Myanmar of Ms. Montas and others in the UN briefing room, one wonders what "expressing interest" means.

UN's Ban on way to Myanmar, May 2008, this time fewer, hand picked microphones

   Asking publicly in the briefing room does not count, Ms. Montas said. "You have to come to my office and register on a list."

    In fact, Ms. Montas' Office reached out to media organizations which indicated they would have staffers from Bangkok and elsewhere in the Far East accompany Ban and told them that Ban wants only particular reporters who cover him at the UN.

   It would appear that, faced with negative press coverage of the first half of his term, particularly of his pro-government victory tour in Sri Lanka, Team Ban has sought to control how the Myanmar trip is covered by hand selecting who gets to cover it. Watch this space.

* * *

UN's Ban Tells Only Some Media of Myanmar Chance, Bad Press Left Behind?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 28 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reportedly still undecided if he will stop in Myanmar on his upcoming trip to Japan, Ban's press office has nevertheless quietly selected the journalists who would be allowed to cover his visit with the country's military rulers.

  Until now, the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General has informed at least all resident correspondents at the UN of the possibility of a trip, and to apply if they are interested in going.

  This time, Ban's office refused to confirm when asked by the Press that he would go to Myanmar, while behind the scenes pre-selecting which journalists would be allowed to accompany him.

   Some see this is a reaction to the increasingly negative media coverage Ban has been receiving. As Inner City Press asked Ban during his last press conference, the Economist rated him three out of ten on speaking truth to power.

  Specifically raised was his performance in Sri Lanka where, as covered by Inner City Press, Ban smiled as Tamil children detained by the government were made to sing his name. The goal, some surmise, is to try to avoid that kind of coverage in the future.

   Even Charlie Rose, television's friendliest interviewer, last week asked Ban about his failing grades. Ban responded by saying that he had saved 500,000 people in Myanmar. Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas where this figure came from. The number of people in need, she said, when Ban last visited Myanmar.

   There was another side to Ban's agreement, of course: that Than Shwe's regime took 25% of all aid money by requiring conversion through Foreign Exchange Certificates whose value the government controlled, as exposed by Inner City Press and then others.

UN's Ban and Myanmar's Than Shwe, critical press coverage not welcome

   With Aung San Suu Kyi being tried for the non-consensual visit of a groupie, facing extended detention, and amid reports that Myanmar is seeking to illegally import weapons from North Korea, Ban's current Myanmar envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Myanmar in order to provide a briefing to Ban.

   African Ambassadors to the UN have told Inner City Press that Ban recent offered by Gambari to replace Rodolphe Adada as envoy in Sudan, calling into question either Ban's or Gambari's commitment to Myanmar.

  But the "insides' game" to pre-select the journalists who would be allowed to cover Ban in Myanmar may further call into question this UN's commitment to free press.

   Those not informed of the change included not only Inner City Press, but another of the three media organizations which Ban's management chief, spokesperson, speechwriter and Under Secretaries General for public information and legal affairs met about on May 8, with an eye toward legal action and constructive censorship, click here for that story. And watch this site.

Footnote: Some claim that the UN made the list based off those who asked about Myanmar. During Ban's last visit to Myanmar, his Office allowed the Than Shwe regime to blacklist media which the UN had already invited to come. This may be a new stage, in which the UN asks the regime who they would like to come, rather than making all UN correspondents aware of the opportunity.

On June 25, Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Montas

Inner City Press:On Myanmar, the Government has said that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is in the air and will be there. Can you confirm that? And what is the process, if he is going there... to brief the Secretary-General? Is it determined that the Secretary-General will go?

Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is going to meet with Mr. Gambari, as soon as Mr. Gambari comes to New York, and this is before the Secretary-General takes off for Japan next Monday. So he will be reporting this weekend to the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: He was on Charlie Rose last night. Is that correct?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Inner City Press: Among other things, I heard him to say in Myanmar, he saved 500,000 people. What’s the basis for that number?

Spokesperson: The basis is the number of people that were in need at the time when he obtained the access for humanitarian workers into Myanmar.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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