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At the UN, Closed Rooms and a Crafty Ban Ki-Whom, Paparazzi on Julia Ormond v. Hezbollah

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 20 -- It's a late Friday afternoon in late July at the UN, and Korea is the theme. In Conference Room 4, a General Assembly committee is meeting on North Korea's complaint about Japan "abusing the national sovereign rights of Koreans in Japan in wanton violation of the internationally recognized norms and regulations."

            Let's say you're a reporter. The sign in front Conference Room 4 doesn't say "closed," as the sign in front of a Department of Political Affairs "Donor Round Table" in Conference Room B did. So you go in and sit down. Japan's deputy permanent representative Shinyo is speaking, about what he calls the entirely legal and routine closing down of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

            You start taking notes, but a man in a suit comes over and asks to see you identification card. "No press," he says. You head back into to the hall, stopping to listen to a second-tier diplomat you know. "Are you here for North Korea?" you ask.

            "No, something else," he says. Terrorism. "There's a problem in every room." That's the UN. You head to the Vienna Cafe for a $2.10 medium latte. As an always friendly staffer, who works for Aramark catering, foams the milk for you, the head of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, gets up from her table, sees you and nods.

            "Cote d'Ivoire," you say. Three hours earlier at Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's noon press briefing, it was announced that OIOS is investigating a contingent of UN peacekeepers based in the Ivorian city of Bouake for "wide-spread sexual exploitation and abuse." While the Spokesperson doesn't say from which troop contributing country the accused contingent comes, those who are based in Bouake include Moroccan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Ghanaian forces. An insider's tip says the continent is Moroccan, and 800 soldiers strong.

            "We finished that report," says Ms. Ahlenius of OIOS. One of her staffers, always with her, whispers. "No that's something different," she adds.

            "You all are everywhere," you say, to keep things friendly, referring to seeing this same troika in the lunchroom-like cafeteria and now in the Vienna cafe.

            "We have to be," Ms. Ahlenius replies. And then is gone.

            Ban Ki-moon, on Cote d'Ivoire, has done months without appointing a replacement special envoy. Ban has just returned from a one day meeting in Lisbon. While he was away, the South Korean mission opened an exhibition in the General Assembly's lobby, of Korean crafts. Ban Ki-moon's wife Yoo Soon-taek, mostly called "Mrs. Ban," spoke at the opening, and was shown all the displays.

Mrs. Ban and the moving type display

    Now that Mr. Ban is back, the show will be repeated, but for a smaller crowd. Nearly all Korean, as it turns out. The event was not in the UN's Media Alert, but was listed in an update to Mr. Ban's schedule. You've also been told that a Korean TV crew is bragging they have an interview with Ban, as if he's a Hollywood celebrity.

            The UN, as an aside, loves movie stars, and often hands them the podium. On Thursday a press conference on human trafficking was held by Julia Ormond. Among other things she referred to "a member of Hezbollah" who funded operations by "trafficking women in Vienna," using his "cell phone from prison." Video here, from Minute 26:55.

            That this sounds like an urban legend is not the point. As one snarky correspondent was heard to say as the briefing began, she has only really heard of Julia Ormond within the United Nations. "What movie was she in, again?"

            But back to the Secretary-General, or Ban Ki-Whom as one English paper put it. As you approach the crafts display, you're told, "This is just a photo op, no questions can be asked." You nod: you have a camera.  But when Mr. Ban arrives, he bows and shake hands, and then speaks to the Korean media. In Korean. He gets applause, he poses for pictures. Then he heads back to the 38th floor, for a meeting with three representatives of the African Group, including Zimbabwe.  The topic presumably will be Ban's consolidation of the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa. "No questions," you were told. But there's nothing but questions.

* * *

Given Mr. Ban's omission of Somalia in his July 16 press conference, click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, and note the cancellation of the UN's pre-Congress flight to Mogadishu.

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