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At UN, In Budget Boost for Preventative Diplomacy Some Questions Are Sidestepped

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 6, updated Nov. 13 -- The head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, on Tuesday said DPA does not compete with the UN's peacekeeping operations, with their much larger budget. For the Darfur peacekeeping mission, only for infrastructure, the UN is determined to pay $250 million to Lockheed Martin, in a no-bid contract that covers six months. Meanwhile DPA's budget is proposed to be raised by $21 million over two years. In a 168-page proposal that was submitted late last week to the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary questions, and on which Mr. Pascoe briefed reporters on Tuesday, DPA is described as "discrete by design, due to the sensitive nature of diplomacy in situations of potential conflict."

            The same might be said of Mr. Pascoe, who sidestepped most of the questions reporters asked, about how for example the current situation in Pakistan is different than Myanmar, to which DPA-assisted envoy Ibrahim Gambari has traveled, or about the mission of his deputy in the Congo (which Inner City Press has heard involves finding an endgame and even possible exile-venue for renegade general Laurent Nkunda.)  Mr. Pascoe smiled and left each question without a direct answer. Video here. Discrete by design, to be sure. To his credit, when informed that Pakistan's mission to the UN has protested Ban Ki-moon's relatively mild statement on Monday, that prisoners should be released, Mr. Pascoe quickly acknowledged that what he'd said had been wrong, he just hadn't heard of Pakistan's protest in the course of the morning's meeting. A UN official so quickly acknowledging a mistake, no matter how small, is a surprisingly rare reaction.

B. Lynn Pascoe at UN, discrete, trust funds not shown

            One thing not rare at the UN, at least these days, are shifting numbers. On October 25, the Secretariat unveiled what they called a $4.2 billion two-year budget, $18 million of which was to strengthen DPA. Later than same day, the overall number rose to $4.4 billion, which was explained in terms of inflation and exchange rate flux. Now eleven days later, the DPA increase has rising to $21 million.  Inner City Press asked Mr. Pascoe to explain, and to confirm or deny that he had asked for $25 million and a new Assistant Secretary General position. While pointedly not answering the second part of the question, Pascoe explained the extra $3 million as, essentially, padding: that the Comptroller doesn't fully fund budget items, knowing that there is always some delay in staffing-up. Pascoe called it, actually, a $17 million proposal. Only at the UN...

      Substantively, DPA has quietly done yeoman work in places like Nepal, while being less transparent about its role, say, in the Darfur peace talks. What does DPA, as a matter of political affairs, think of the UN giving Sudan the issue of a $250 million sole-source Darfur peacekeeping infrastructure contract to U.S. based Lockheed Martin -- click here for that-- and who decided that invitations should be made to even small Darfur rebel movements, leading the two largest, JEM and SLA, to stay away? While discretion and secrecy may be needed during negotiations, there should be accountability for and lessons learned from the choices made, afterwards.

            During the noon briefing, when Inner City Press asked how many trust funds DPA administers, where and for how much, Mr. Pascoe said DPA would get back with an answer. By six p.m., the information had not been provided. Another UN spokesman seemed to say, for example, that a formal Kampala office is immanently being opened by UN envoy to the Lord's Resistance Army peace talks -- and recent prize winner -- Joaquim Chissano. A week later the office is described as informal, a couple of people supporting Chissano's work, not financed through any trust fund. This will be followed up on. For now, for Inner City Press' story today about South Sudan's first vice president Salva Kiir's comments including about the LRA and Vincent Otti, click here.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece 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