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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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Ban's Turin Retreat Light on Reform, Heavy on Praise of UN by Outsiders Invited to "Non-Public" Event

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- When the UN's top 50 executives go on an internal retreat, who from outside gets invited? On Thursday Inner City Press asked, and late in the day got this answer:

"Concerning your question at the noon briefing today, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be delivering the keynote address Friday morning at the opening of the UN retreat in Turin. She is invited as president of Liberia abut also because of her long career in the UN system at UNDP and the World Bank. Other speakers and panelists include Jan Egeland, Jan Eliasson, Kieran Prendergast, Mary Robinson, French journalist Christine Ockrent, Lebanese journalist Rami George Khouri, Kathy Bushkin Calvin of the UN Foundation. However, this retreat is not a public event."

            So at time when Ban Ki-moon is under fire allowing his Ethics Office's plea to be allow to offer protection to a whistleblower retaliated against by the UN Development Program, Ban's retreat is a gabfest with a list of the same-old, same-old, UN defenders all, service to UNDP being a basis for the invitation of the keynote speaker. Will reform and transparency even be discussed? The availability of audits to member states and to the public? The following-through on the promise of a UN freedom of information procedure, made repeatedly by Alicia Barcena, who will also be in attendance? 

            Jean-Marie Guehenno and Jane Holl Lute will both be there -- will the recent strike by UN national staff in the Congo be discussed? Or confirmed reports of gold trading assistance by peacekeepers in the Congo? Or, since Liberia's president will be there, the UN's disbanding of the national staff union within the Mission in that country?

Ban at a previous retreat,
phosgene not shown

            While Ban should be following through on his statements while running for the post that he would focus on reform and good management, even on "burning political questions," compare Rami George Khouri's interesting piece on Fateh al-Islam with the theory advanced by journalist Seymour Hersh, that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have supported Fateh al-Islam. Was Seymour Hersch invited to Ban's Turin retreat? How and by whom was this guest list prepared? The question should be answered.

            The UN's sense of secrecy -- some call it, entitlement -- is so strong that at least two UN programs declined to confirm that their leaders would attend the UN retreat in Turin. One program responded, "kindly refer to Michele Montas. As you know, it is common UN practice not to discuss travel of senior UN officials until shortly before they travel. In this case, your question also has implications for the UN System at large."

            So the press and public can know -- usually -- when and where Ban Ki-moon is traveling, but his Under Secretary General's are so important that their travel cannot even be discussed.

            And while Inner City Press followed the programs' advice and asked Ban's Office of Spokesperson, the answer was that "there are 54 participants (USGs and ASGs) at this retreat," no names being provided. Ah, transparency...

* * *

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 respond.)  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