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UN Women's Week Ends As Ban Ki-moon Dodges Mercenary Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- At the end of a week on the status of women, Ban Ki-moon spoke Monday morning before a group of Ambassador's wives. "I'll always stand behind you, not in front of you," he said. Then he added from the podium in the UN's Conference Room 1, "But when I have to speak out, I'll always speak in front of you."

  The members of the Ambassadors' wives club, called the Women's International Forum, laughed politely. The response stalled and then stopped as Ban shifted the topic to management reform. He noted again he's made public his financial statement, and said "I hope my senior managers will follow my lead." This is one reform not dependent on any committee. Ban could have conditioned his nominations on disclosures of finance. Instead, Messrs. Holmes and Pascoe are in without disclosing, and Ms. Barcena has said she'd like to disclosure, but only if other do.

            Ban spoke of Somalia and Darfur, a topic on which he received a 14-page letter in Arabic from Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. Ban said he may speak with Bashir on Saturday. In the hallway afterwards, accompanied by his spokeswoman Soung-ah Choi, Mr. Ban did not stop to take questions. Nor, as reflected by the noon briefing's transcript, does the South Korean mission answer questions referred to it:

Inner City Press: Earlier this week, I tried to ask your office for a number of when Mr. Ban was the Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister for South Korea, how much aid came through that department, through the UN agencies, to North Korea, I was referred to the South Korean Mission and I have received no answer from them. So, I'm...

Spokesperson: That is a question that should be addressed to the South Korean Government.

Question: I guess I'm saying, the reason I'm asking is not that there's any, just as a journalistic matter, it seems like if he's ordering the audit and some of the things that will be found in the audit, not to say that thereís anything wrong with it, will be in fact, funding that he signed off on... it seems to me like a legitimate question. Or maybe your office can help get an answer.  What I was told from the South Korean Mission is that the Ambassador who works on that is now back in Korea and we don't know when he's coming back. Mr. (inaudible) [Amb. Oh Joon] the one I was referred to...

Spokesperson: I'm sure the South Korean Government has a spokesperson that you could probably address those questions to.

            The spin machine is operating on overdrive: first the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General declined to answer the question, and referred it to a South Korean Ambassador who has refused to respond. Then, when this is raised at the noon briefing, it is not included in the UN's self-serving "Highlights" of the briefing, click here to view. But the questions will not go away.

Mr. Ban, in front of skepticism

            Also dodged was a question about the use of mercenaries in Somalia:

Inner City Press: ...these reports that the US in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia has hired, I donít know if you call them mercenaries, or private military contractors... I heard Mr. Ban earlier today say that he anticipates that becoming a UN force in Somalia. Does the UN have any view, of in these peacekeeping missions, whether it's in this case AU, or later UN, the use of paid, private military firms like (inaudible), in peacekeeping?

Spokesperson: Well, it is an issue that I know has come up in the past. As for the UNís operation in Somalia, as you know, I think we are still at a point where a lot of work will have to go into whether the UN is going to be involved there or not. So, there's a lot more discussion on that to be held. But no, we do not have a direct comment on your question involving the AU.

            Meanwhile, after too few question were asked at a morning press conference marking the end of the two week long Commission on the Status of Women meeting, a second briefing was arranged, in which Carolyn Hannan explained the four pending resolutions, on female genital mutilation (sponsored by South Africa), forced marriage (sponsored by the United States), HIV / AIDS (sponsored by South Africa, to the surprise of some, at least readers of the recent issues of the New Yorker magazine) and on woman in Palestine. Inner City Press asked about this last -- would it, as happens so often at the UN, lead to blocking votes?

            "Yes, that happens every year," Ms. Hannan answered.  Which lead another correspondent to ask, why do you introduce the same resolutions year after year?

            It's a point of principle for some countries," Ms. Hannan said. The correspondent shook his -- yes, his -- head. Inner City Press asked about an idea that has been floated, for the World Bank and IMF to condition financing on the respect of women's rights. Ms. Hannan said that next year's meeting will be on the question of funding, and added that this type of conditionality has long been debated, but is current disfavored, as hurting the people that conditions seek to help. Is this similar to sanctions? Seems like it. We will have more on all this.

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In Iran Talks, China Offers Quotes and Hope to Shivering Reporters

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- As a next round of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programs are discussed by the five permanent member nations of the Security Council and Germany, Thomas Matussek, the German envoy, predicted that the penalties agreed to will be "swift and modest." To this process, the UN press corps adds another adjective through chattering teeth: cold.

            Talks have so far been held outside of the UN, in the United Kingdom's mission in 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street and Second Avenue in New York, where the temperature has been below freezing. Ambassadors emerge from the talks to inform or spin reporters about the negotiations. Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff came out spoke to a dozen journalists waiting on the sidewalk in the cold. His comments were a model of bland diplomacy:

Amb. Wolff: The devil is in the details on these things as you know... We're doing a lot of explaining in different terms of what peoples' concerns are, and what is the best way to get our ultimate objective, and the ultimate objective is a shared one, to signal to the Iranian government that there is a cost for not adhering to resolutions, for not complying with their obligations, and the cost increases each time they don't comply.

            These comments were, reporters noted, less than useful.  The talks resumed at 10 a.m. on Friday, an even colder day in New York. Reporters were shivering when the meeting broke up at 1 p.m.. But this time, Chinese Ambassador Guangya Wang provided more specifics:

Q. Do you see this going on for a few more weeks?

Amb. Wang: I hope if it goes well, then at least I don't think we will be ready by next week.

Q. Not by next week?

Amb. Wang: No. My feeling is, not.

Q. Ambassador, one more thing. Yesterday, the State Dept. spokesman indicated that this time Chinese are more resisting than Russians. How do you respond?

Amb. Wang:  I think... the difficulty for China is different from the difficulty that Russians have.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

Amb. Wang: I think the Chinese main difficulty is with the financial and trade sanctions against Iran, because we feel that we are not punishing Iranian people. We should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field. And the difficulty for Russia is, Russia has difficulty with the name of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, because they feel it's an institution in Iran and you don't have to penalize an institution.

            Reporters were grateful for the quotes, which appeared in Reuters and in much of the Japanese press. But the stock of Ambassador Wang and perhaps of China rose even higher with the press corps when he apologized for holding the meetings outside of the UN, where reporters have to wait outside in the cold. You have no place to sit, and now water, Amb. Wang remarked, committing to trying to move the forthcoming meetings back into the UN building.  Other Ambassadors at the talks did not express this concern; one press spokesperson remarked that no one obliged reporters to come and wait for quotes in the cold. Provoking the most ire, after French Ambassador Jean Marc de la Sabliere did not come outside for even a moment to speak, since his office is inside the building, his spokesman sent reporters a short bilingual (and unusable) quote by e-mail: "The meeting was constructive. We are making progress / Nous avancons."

            Merci for nothing, muttered one reporter. The ink-stained sources cited in this piece are granted anonymity due to their need for continued access to thin-skinned diplomats.

Amb. Wang speaks to Amb. de la Sabliere (Cold? Moi? Froid?)

            There is a saying in courthouses, that the law is what the judge had for breakfast.  Likewise, some of journalism is impacted by how the journalists are treated. If the personal is political, one can expect more understanding coverage of China's positions, at least during these Iran sanctions negotiations.

            One reporter marveled that China was so humane in New York, while taking a different approach back home (for example, shooting some of those trying to flee Tibet, click here for that story.) Another wag -- this one -- quipped that if the North Koreans sent blankets, hot coffee and construction heaters to the press corps on 47th Street, their line that the United States and the UN are "gangster-like" might gain a bit more traction.

In full disclosure, while the account of Thursday evening's stakeout is first-hand, on Friday while the above-described took place, Inner City Press was posing questions to the UN's envoy to the Great Lakes region of African and to Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about North Korea, in the too-warm UN briefing room. Video here, from Minute 14:50; click here for Inner City Press' most recent (and, one hopes, more substantive) story on the UN's dealings with North Korea. The spokesperson referred the question to the South Korean mission. But that's west of First Avenue, and as more than one reporter signed, It's coooold outside. To be continued.

At the UN, Rosy Light Falls on Great Lakes Despite Bombs and Kony of Lord's Resistance Army

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- The Great Lakes region, which in the past decade was the site of what is called Africa's World War in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 13 years ago a genocide in Rwanda, has "turned the page on conflict and destabilization," according to outgoing UN envoy Ibrahima Fall.

            On Friday outside the Security Council, Inner City Press asked Mr. Fall three questions, two of which gleaned positive, some say Pollyanna, answers, and the third a "no comment." Asked about recent complaints by Rwanda about bombs being fired from Congolese territory, Mr. Fall said "I can assure you that the Congolese authorities have the will and determination to deal with all issues that threaten relations between DRC and Rwanda in North and South Kivu and between DRC  and Uganda in Ituri." Video here, from Minute 2:02.

            This last phrase might well refer to the Lord's Resistance Army leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, who are said to be once again in Garamba National Park in DRC. Inner City Press asked Mr. Fall about the expiration on March 1 of the ceasefire between the LRA and the government of Uganda, and the now-stopped peace talks.  Mr. Fall begged to differ: "The negotiations in Juba are progressing," he said. While acknowledging "some recent set backs," he pointed out that Mozambique's ex-president Chissano is "interacting" with the parties and said "I understand he will brief the Security Council next week."  Here's hoping. Video here, from Minute 3:48.

Guns being cut in half, per UN

            Finally, Inner City Press asked Ibrahima Fall if, now that his time as Great Lake envoy is expiring, he anticipates doing any more work for or with the United Nations. Mr. Fall has expressed frustration at what he's called the low level of resources given to him for his mandate. Some Security Council diplomats have previously questions what was really being down for the first four years of Fall's tenure. Inner City Press asked, what are you going to do next?

            "That is personal business," Mr. Fall said. "If you authorize me, I will avoid to talk about personal things." Video here, in Minute 5. Even off-camera, Mr. Fall declined to say anything about what he will do next. He has been in the UN system for some time, including as an Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Political Affairs, management of which passed this month from Ibrahim Gambari to B. Lynn Pascoe. What does Mr. Fall think of the direction of the UN under Ban Ki-moon? This is an answer we'll await. On Friday, Inner City Press asked the office of Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for reaction, from MONUC or the Secretariat, to Rwanda's complaint of bombs incoming from the DRC territory ostensibly controlled by the Congolese Army in conjunction wth the UN peacekeepers of MONUC. Video here.  An answer was promised, and will be published on this site when received. On a key Great Lakes issue, the end-game (or not) of the Lord's Resistance Army, neither Ban Ki-moon nor his appointees John Holmes nor Lynn Pascoe have yet shown their hands. Developing...

At the UN, Lords' Resistance Army Closer to Council Agenda, No Ban Comment on Mugabe

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 -- For months, the UN Security Council has gone silent about the conflict in Northern Uganda, between the Musevini government and the Lords' Resistance Army, known for kidnapping children and in some cases making them kill their parents and neighbors. This month's Council president, Slovakia's Peter Burian, on Wednesday indicated that he will be requesting a Council briefing on the LRA "in the near future."

            "You and I spoke yesterday on this," he told Inner City Press (click here for video of that exchange), "and thanks to Slovakia and other countries, attention in the Council to LRA has increased in past year." Diplomatic sources have told Inner City Press that there is resistance amid the Permanent Five members of the Security Council to address the Lords' Resistance Army issues. China and Russia have been named, on the same sovereignty logic that led the two to cast vetoes on the issues of Myanmar.

            Ambassador Burian noted that Jan "Egeland was most involved in the negotiations" with the LRA, but that "there has been a change in that position," as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Video here, from Minute 29:09. Inner City Press has asked the incoming head of OCHA, John Holmes, about the LRA issue, but his answer was deemed entirely off the record. Soon, March 1, he will take up the position, and answer questions publicly.

Egeland in Juba

            It is reported that the LRA leaders who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti among them, have now crossed into the Central African Republic. So the peace talks have broken down.

            The next step appears to be a briefing to the Council about the LRA by the UN Secretariat. Kofi Annan's appointed envoy, Joaquim Chisano, has not publicly been heard from. Will he providing a briefing in New York, in the five remaining working days of Slovakia's Council presidency? We'll see.

            At the Secretariat's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked for Ban Ki-moon's position on Zimbabwe, where the Robert Mugabe government has just announced a ban on public protests and gatherings for at least the next three months. The spokesperson described Africa as a "priority" for Mr. Ban, but not much more detail than that.  Another reporter followed up, "So he has no position on Zimbabwe?" We'll see.

Lord's Resistance Army in Sights of UN Security Council President, for Action on War Crimes

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 2 -- "Concrete action against the Lord's Resistance Army" in Uganda was called for Friday by the president of the UN Security Council for February. Slovakia's Ambassador Peter Burian told Inner City Press that he and other Council members were told to hold off on criticism when the UN's Jan Egeland met with LRA leaders in late 2006, "because the situation was fragile." Now Amb. Burian questions whether the LRA leadership's strategy is to make small concessions to continue to forestall a move to enforce the outstanding war crimes indictments issued by the International Criminal Court.

            Amb. Burian was on the Security Council trip to Southern Sudan when the talks between the LRA and Uganda's Museveni government began. "We were told, don't say much, it has only just started," said Amb. Burian. A reporter who accompanied the Council on that trip recalls waiting for an okay from the government of South Sudan to interview the LRA leaders, which permission never came. Since then, the LRA has conducted something of a public relations campaign. Amb. Burian expressed frustration Friday at the lack of fight-back or rebuttal.

            At a UN press conference Friday, Inner City Press asked Amb. Burian if he will add Uganda and the LRA on the Council's agenda this month. "It's a good point," he responded. "It has been a while since the Council has discussed it, probably we need to revisit recent developments. We may put the question in our national capacity... action against the LRA and on using child soldiers and disrupting the region's peace and security." Video here, from Minute 36:54.

Amb. Burrian

            The talks in Juba in Southern Sudan between the LRA and Uganda's Museveni government have broken down, with the LRA seeking to transfer negotiations to Kenya or South Africa. U.S. State Department spokesman Scott McCormack on Friday said that "We are concerned that demands to change the mediator and venue of the talks will only delay peace in the region and further the suffering of displaced northern Ugandans."

            Slovakia, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is also concerned with northern Uganda, a staffer of Amb. Burian told Inner City Press. "Often the UK has been in the lead on this issue," he said. But the UK is seen as speaking for Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, whose has been less than clear on whether the ICC warrants should be enforced. Slovakia, said the staffer, does not have this conflict of interest. "We can fight for the suffering people everywhere," he said. [Click here for  Inner City Press' coverage of violent disarmament in Uganda's Karamoja region.]

            Earlier in the week, Inner City Press asked Charles Rapp, who is prosecuting Liberia's Charles Taylor, for his views on the LRA. Mr. Rapp too said that justice should not be sold out for a peace that might well be illusory. Now with Jan Egeland rumored to be on the verge of obtaining another UN post, this balance between peace and justice should be spoken on and clearly.  Justice Richard Goldstone told Inner City Press last year that before the UN talks with the leaders of the LRA, the Security Council should formally put the ICC indictments on hold. There are now 27 days in which Amb. Burian has to act, and/or be asked these questions. We'll see.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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