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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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UN's Ban Claims Credit for Korean Hostages' Release, While Careful on Sovereignty and Sudan, Which Questions to Take

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 28 -- Surrounded by questions about whether and why he has reduced the visibility and relevance of the UN during his nine months at the helm, while undercutting a main ethics reform instituted before he began, Ban Ki-moon appeared before UN correspondents on Tuesday and tried to choose what could be asked. After imposing a limitation to issues about Ban's trip to Sudan, Chad and Libya, Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas selected as the third questioner a representative of South Korean television, to give Ban a staged opportunity to claim credit for the release of the South Korean hostages in Afghanistan.  In what a range of correspondents concluded was Ban's most scripted and longest response, Ban said he had "exerted all possible efforts" and that he has "not been able to explain them publicly." It had nothing to do with his trip, but that limitation, most concluded, was only a pretext to avoid difficult questions.

            In his last press conference, Ban's most energetic statement was a defense of his hiring of South Koreans, including his main advisor Kim Won-soo, who as deputy chief of staff is called by many "the real Secretary-General," making a mockery of Vijay Nambiar's title as chief of staff. Mr. Ban's defense is called into question, however, by his decision to place the issue of 19 South Korean hostages at the center of his next press conference, one month later, contrary to the limitations he imposed on all other journalists and issues. "Why didn't he just film that on the side, in Korean," muttered one journalist, not this one.

            Ban's communications chief, Michael Myer, came to watch his handiwork; it is unclear if Myer is responsible for the amateurish attempt to limit what issues could be raised, and who would be allowed to raise them. (Mr. Myer did, however, pen claims about Ban's role in the freeing of the British sailors by Iran, and of Alan Johnston, click here for that.) Despite statements after Ban's last press conference that those not allowed questions then would get a chance this time, Ms. Montas openly went out of her way to avoid calling on particular journalists -- full disclosure not necessary, presumably, but inserted here. Despite a staff member having asked reporters to sign up in advance to ask questions, Ms. Montas called on reporters not on the list, including one from a publication which has openly suspended publication for the next two weeks. Previously commitments to fairness, said at a noon briefing (see below) and in front of the camera, were jettisoned.

            And now Ban Ki-moon heads for a jet, to take his apparently not-ready-for-prime-time show on the road. The first stop is Turin, where he will met with UN executives including the head of the UN Ethics Office, Robert Benson, whose plea to allow protection of a whistleblower from the UN Development Program "for the good of the UN" Ban ignored or did not act on. Beyond what this shows about good government instincts, it seem destined to further undermine the "One UN," system-wide coherence plan that Ban says he believes in. At Tuesday press briefing supposedly limited to questions about his trip, Ban's first stop, Turin, where reform might be discussed, was not even mentioned by Ban, nor questions on it taken.

Ban's last trip to Turin, July 4, 2007, carbon offsetting and controlling gatekeepers not shown

            In Sudan Ban will meet, among others, with president al-Bashir. After Ban's closely controlled press conference on Tuesday, Inner City Press has the opportunity to ask Sudan's Ambassador to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, if Ban has said anything to Sudan's government about its move to expel the representative of the non-governmental organization CARE. That is a matter of sovereignty, was the response, and that Ban has been respecting Sudan's sovereignty including in this context -- as in most other human rights contexts all around the globe, a Security Council observer confided, noting that even Ban's approach to sovereignty is arbitrary.

            Questions about the UN's mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, a topic jotted on the Ban staffer's pre-briefing list, were not addressed in any way. Ban is not even visiting the Central African Republic. His own report -- well, written by staff, seemingly hold-overs -- about Chad and CAR admits that while there are 30,000 internally displaced people in northeastern CAR, there are 180,000 IDPs in northwestern CAR. But Ban is only even proposing sending police to northeastern CAR -- consonant, some say, with Ban's acts such as consolidating the UN Office of the Special Advisor on Africa. With questions of ethics and favoritism and effectively picking up steam, Ban seems to be putting all his eggs in the Darfur and global warming basket, even joining the two in increasingly surreal blather about a huge lake under Sudan. Water if found, is known for its cleansing properties, and Tuesday at the UN made clear that many changes are needed and even inevitable. Watch this site.

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From the July 19, 2007, noon briefing transcript, video here:

Inner City Press: The person who walked out isn't here.  I think, as he walked out, he said something like: "This is a joke," and he walked out. And I think his perception was that he wasn't called on, based on the question he was going to ask.  So I think, in the code of conduct, it also says, all correspondents have a right to ask questions.

Spokesperson Montas:  From what I gather, I answer all the questions that you have.  In the case of the press conference of the Secretary-General, I had 20 hands up of questions that could not be answered, because, even though the press conference lasted more than an hour -- the Secretary-General has said 45 minutes, he accepted to stay beyond that -- but he has other things to do.  I cannot keep him here 2 hours until all the questions are answered.  What I can say, I do not prejudge the questions of any correspondent.  Thank you very much.

Inner City Press: Is there... One way is maybe get him to do...  not have such a long gap between the press conferences.

Spokesperson Montas:  He has promised to do a press conference a month.

Inner City Press: And too, to make sure that people that... Maybe people who weren't able to ask last time, it can be assured -- either by some list or in some way -- they can be sure that the following time they can ask.  Is there any way?

Spokesperson Montas:  The first press conference, I had a number of people who complained that they had not been called upon.  A number of them were called upon this time around, because I had their names.  So I try to be as even-handed as I possible can.  However, I do give regional choices.  I do try to give as wide a range of types of questions I can possibly do to get a richer press conference for all of you.  It is not for me.

Inner City Press:  I think through UNCA, maybe we can come up with an idea of how it can all work out.

    It has not worked out. Watch this site.

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without Ban's DPA having responded.)  Click here for an earlier 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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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540