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Amid Syria Failure, UN Demands Deletion of its Official's Name, Questions Sources

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- Amid charges from all sides that the UN's and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's activities in Syria are a failure, the UN's response on Thursday was to seek to censor press coverage of differing description of an upcoming UN trip to Damascus, then to question its sources.

  As Inner City Press reported yesterday -- and modifies at the UN's request in this version -- on May 16 a Security Council Permanent Representative told the press that

"in the coming days Jean-Marie 'Guehenno and DPKO,' the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, will go to Damascus, on the political track, with it was hoped Kofi Annan to follow. Later on May 16, Inner City Press was informed that the request was made [deleted at UN's request] on the issue of the observers, not the political track."

More than 12 hours later came this from DPKO's spokesman, copying Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Date: Thu, May 17, 2012 at 7:46 AM

I have become aware of you[r] web article and tweets naming [individual's name included in DPKO's email, but deleted here] as planning to travel to syria along with dpko colleaugues. Your decision to publish this information in advance of a trip has created a potentially serious security situation for un personnel. I ask that you remove all such references from the inner city press website without delay, for the sake of the safety and security of un peacekeeping personnel.

  For the UN to request post-publication removal from the Internet of information, stated on the record by a Security Council's Permanent Representative, seems to implicate freedom of the press issues which seem not to be the UN's priority under Ban Ki-moon.

  But within minutes of receiving the above, Inner City Press modified the story, removing the name and an included critique of the individual specified in DPKO's removal request, then replied that the Permanent Representative

"yesterday morning on the record stated that Jean Marie Guehenno and DPKO were going to Damascus. Subsequent reporting found that the request was for Mr. Ladsous plus three. If you have a problem with names, you need to speak to Permanent Representatives, including among the Permanent Five members of the Security Council... I'm still waiting for the promised answer beyond Entebbe of DPKO's use of private military and security firms, and for the UN casualty estimate at Pibor. Please advise. I have immediately removed references in this article to Mr. Ladsous, which seems to be your major concern."

   Significantly, DPKO did not request the deletion of Jean-Marie Guehenno's name. The name it requested delation of it gave, obviously, to the Syrian government. So from where does the claimed danger come?

    Even with this change, the UN Peacekeeping spokesman persisted, now inquiring into what Inner City Press' "subsequent reporting" consisted of:

"Thank you for removing the name. However much of the damage has in fact been done already. I am very concerned that Inner City Press seems to wash its hands of responsibility for what it chooses to publish. By Inner City Press's own reporting, [the] Ambassador [misnamed by DPKO] did not appear to have named DPKO names. I do not know what you mean by 'subsequent reporting,' and given the lack of other reports I can only assume you mean your own decision to publish Mr [X's] name. The problem that I have is with the ramifications for UN peacekeeping personnel safety and security, and with Inner City Press's decision to publish in complete disregard for these matters. Your response below indicates a continued blithe recklessness with regard to the safety and security of UN personnel operating in highly volatile circumstances."

  In fact, while Inner City Press immediately made the deletions requested by DPKO despite their seeming basis in removing a single individual from the public eye, DPKO has for six months promised to sign a Status of Forces Agreement for the peacekeepers in Abyei, four of whom bled out and died due to slow med-evac due to the lack of a SOFA. No explanation has been provided, including after another request on Thursday.

  At Thursday's noon briefing, while deliberately as requested not using any individual's name, even that provided on the record by a Security Council Permanent Representative, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon spokesman Martin Nesirky to clarify if this visit to Damascus is about the political track, or only about observers.

  Nesirky refused to answer this, cloaking the entire question in an invocation of safety and accusing the previous publication as being "unacceptable." Inner City Press said it disagrees 100% with the attempt at censorship of information stated on the record by UN member states' Permanent Representatives, then asked on the issue of actual safety the question of why despite the public statement six months ago still no SOFA was in place for the peacekeepers in Abyei. Nesirky said when he has something he will say.

  Notably, under Nesirky the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General was thrown out of the Security Council and lost previous access. Perhaps this is why they cannot control what Council Permanent Representatives say on the record, but then seek to censor the subsequent press coverage.

  The response to censorship is, in this case, a description of the attempt at censorship, while accomodating the stated but not explained pretext for the attempt at censorship. Watch this site.

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