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UN's Ban Meets with N. Korean Rep, Access for Audit Not Raised, Secret Message Conveyed

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 14 -- On a slow news day in August, Ban Ki-moon summoned to his office the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Pak Gil Yon. There was little to no notice to journalists.

    There were, Inner City Press is told, not one meeting but two. In the first, from 9:45 to 10:30, Amb. Pak met with Ban, his titular chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, his ostensible deputy Kim Won-soo, and two others. Afterwards, Ban and Pak met one-on-one.

            Korean insiders muse of the meeting that Ban was delivering a message for U.S. President George W. Bush, that if relations between South and North Korea improve at their summit meeting later this month, then U.S. - North Korean relations will also improve.

   Behind closed doors, these sources surmise, Ban may have discussed his plan to visit North Korea (though not during the summit, and maybe not this year) or, less probably, to invite Kim Jong-il to the UN. North Korea is said to prefer that Bush visit Pyongyang first.  Ban told the press on Tuesday afternoon

"I am not supposed to attend the South-North summit meeting, because this is a summit meeting between the leaders of both ROK [Republic of Korea] and DPRK...I expressed my sincere hope, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, and as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, as I come from Korea, to see the best result."

            In the UN's own highlights of Tuesday's noon briefing, sent by email rather than put online due to the recent anti-war hacking of the UN's website (click here for that), the meeting and floods in North Korea are summarized. Not included is a question that Inner City Press asked: in the meeting, did Mr. Ban raise to Amb. Pak the issue of the UN Board of Auditors' access to North Korea?

   On January 19, Ban ordered an audit of UN funds and programs in North Korea by the Board of Auditors. After North Korea refused to allow the auditors in, the Ban administration, through Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro, reiterated to the Board of Auditors that it should travel to North Korea.

   In response to Inner City Press' question of if the issue was raised Tuesday by Mr. Ban, his spokesperson said she would look into it. Since then, other questions but not this one have been answered. We surmise that Ban did not even raise it. The issue has become inconvenient.

Messrs. Ban and Kim and South Korean soliders in UNIFIL (Messrs. Nambiar and Pak not shown)

            In fact, one of the agencies that the UN is sending to North Korea in the wake of recent flooding, the World Health Organization, has apparently not been subject to any audit in North Korea, and has refused to answer direct questions about its operations in the DPRK, put to three separate WHO spokespeople for three weeks now. 

            The director of another UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, was asked by Inner City Press on August 1 if any audit had been completed or even begun of FAO in North Korea. FAO Director Jacques Diouf said no, and that what FAO has done in North Korea is entirely in line with the applicable "legal framework." Video here, from Minute 36:32.

            Previously, however, FAO answered Inner City Press' question by belatedly disclosing that

"Staff are paid in Euro by the UNDP on behalf of FAO. UNDP charges FAO for every transaction it carries out on behalf of the Organization. As to the Assistant FAO Representative, upon instruction from FAO Headquarters, with copy to FAO-China, the UNDP Pyongyang releases the money directly to the staff member, in cash. As to seconded staff, FAO China prepares Agency Services Requests (ASRs) for payment of the two seconded staff, and send them to the Regional Office in Bangkok, which in turn, forwards them to the UNDP in Pyongyang."

            Six months after his agency acknowledged using and paying staff seconded from the government in North Korea, FAO's Jacques Diouf said "we do not get government giving us staff and saying we pay them... we do not do that." But that's what seconded staff are. FAO back in January also told Inner City Press:

"The salaries of the two seconded staff are composed of two lines: service charge and 'meal allowances.' I am informed that UNDP in Pyongyang releases the amount related to the meal allowances directly to the staff members in cash, while paying the service charge to the GSB by check."

            In late July, in response to Inner City Press questions, the FAO spokesman stated that "The information provided to you earlier this year on FAO's activities in DPRK remains valid. I have no information regarding any audit."

            Ban's UN and North Korea -- increased speechifying, but transparency still lacking.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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