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UN Tells ICP Ban's RoK Mission Visit Had Chaos in Narrow Hall, FUNCA Qs

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series

UNITED NATIONS, November 27 -- This week Inner City Press reported on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's unannounced visit to South Korea's mission to the UN and his quoted comments there about a possible visit to North Korea, formally the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Sources then told Inner City Press that Ban's UN Security guard had physically restrained some of the reporters, and that one was filing an abuse complaint.

  So Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access asked Ban's Office of the Spokesperson to “please confirm or deny that earlier this week when the Secretary General went to the South Korean mission to sign the condolence book, that UN Security restrained journalist(s) and, separately, that a complaint has been filed.”

   Now this response to the question has been provided by Ban's Office of the Spokesperson:

“During a visit by the Secretary-General to the Republic of Korea's UN Mission earlier this week, in which he signed a condolence book, there was an unexpected rush of reporters who wanted to get a comment from the Secretary-General. This occurred in a narrow corridor as the Secretary-General and his team were exiting. The necessary actions were taken to ensure the Secretary-General's safety in what had quickly become a chaotic environment. The Secretary-General proceeded to answer questions from reporters, which were then transcribed and shared with the press. The Office of the Spokesperson has been in touch with one reporter who was at the event to go through the events and explain what happened.”

  We'll have more on this. Earlier this year, Inner City Press was ordered by Ban's guards to leave an open meeting held by UN Peacekeeping's Herve Ladsous. Inner City Press asked, if some UN official tells you to throw out the media, you just do it? "If he told you to throw me on the ground, would you throw me on the ground?"

  Ban's guard's response was, “Somebody doesn't have to tell me to throw you on the ground, if I've got to put you on the ground, I put you on the ground.” Video here. The Free UN Coalition for Access will continue to pursue this.

 Substantively, what was behind UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's on-again off-again talks of visiting North Korea? On November 26, outgoing UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said he'd "had an opportunity to meet with youths – three from the ROK and three originally from the DPRK – and listen to their views of unification and possible accountability for serious human rights violations in the DPRK. I welcome the fact that that young people, as key actors in a potential future unification process, are actively engaging in these issues.”

  Maybe that's the generation to work on it. Inner City Press has reported on Ban Ki-moon's twists and turns, from Ri Hung Sik, Ambassador at-large of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on November 17 saying that he'd heard nothing about Ban visiting Pyongyang, to Ban's ambiguous and coy statement since, only to South Korean media.

  Now we've reported this: sources exclusively tell Inner City Press that Ban WAS planning to go to North Korea between November 23 and 26, but that the leak of the information proved to be a problem. The sources say that while the timing might have made sense to Ban, once leaked it did not make sense to largely anti-DPRK powers he listens to.

  What would be the message to go to North Korea just days after the UN General Assembly's Third Committee condemned the country's human rights record and urged the Security Council to make a referral to the International Criminal Court, now in light of what Darusman has said?

  The benefit to North Korea would be to show that as they've argued, the resolution is without merit, and they still get courted. But those who sponsored and supported the resolution would not favor such a trip. And so it has not happened.

 And the moment may have passed. Not only because Ban now goes to the Commonwealth meeting in Malta and then to COP21 in Paris -- but also because the timing that worked for North Korea on November 23 will no longer be the case as time goes on. The US is the president of the UN Security Council in December, and there's talk of a North Korea human rights session. By January, would DPRK still be inviting Ban? Watch this site.

  Ban issued a statement on the death of former South Korea president Kim Young-sam - while not having issued such a statement on the recent death of Helmut Schmidt.

Then Ban went to sign the condolence book for Kim Young-sam at the South Korea mission on November 23 -- unlike his visit to the French mission to sign the condolence book there, NOT in his public schedule - and had an interchange described as with South Korean reporters. Who invited them there? Who informed them? Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked, video here, transcript here:

Inner City Press: I noticed the readout you put out, belated, I guess, partial transcript of the Secretary-General’s comments at the South Korean mission, if I’m correct.  I wanted to ask, I guess it’s kind of a procedural question.  It seems like recently he went to sign the condolence book at the French Mission.  It was put in his schedule, trying to cover this.  Like, why wasn’t this in his public schedule, and how did the journalists who were there know to be there?

Spokesman:  This was… the Secretary-General was… added this at the last minute.  We did not invite other journalists to attend.  I think you would have to ask the Mission of the Republic of Korea.

Inner City Press / FUNCA:  Just to know going forward, generally, if you know about such a visit, you put it in the public schedule or try to inform journalists?

Spokesman:  We try to do as much as we can ahead of time.  But obviously, the Secretary-General was traveling.  He basically landed, went home, changed, and went to the mission.  So this was…

Inner City Press:   Does this mean a visit to DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is now closer?  What are the issues being negotiated or discussed?

Spokesman:  Well, I would… I think you have… I think the Secretary-General was very clear in what he said.  We translated the comments from Korean.  He’s obviously in discussions.  Details are still being worked out as to the trip, and when we’re ready to announce it, he will announce it or I will announce it.

On November 24, Ban's office issued this for wider consumption:

Partial transcript of remarks by the Secretary-General to press following his signing of a condolence book at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea

Q: [inaudible question on potential visit to the Korean peninsula]

SG: …As one national of the Republic of Korea, I have often stated, as you well know, my willingness to play any role if there was an opportunity, including through a visit to North Korea, to promote peace and reconciliation between the South and North Koreas, and reduce tensions. The relations and political situation between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had not been conducive, but recently DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong visited the UN Headquarters twice, providing opportunities for us to meet, and it is a fact that we discussed the role of the Secretary-General in this regard. Recently, on this, there has been a bit of a positive signal from the DPRK, and we are at the moment coordinating when would be the best time to visit the DPRK, but so far nothing has been decided. Once the decision is made, I will inform the reporters, and proceed with the visit to the DPRK. I am sure there are many things you are curious about the issue, but I must say that it takes time to advance work, and since there are many sensitive issues at play, so I request that you follow the situation with patience.

Q: The citizens of Korea are very interested, and they want to know when this visit would approximately take place.

SG: That is something I cannot respond at the moment, but I will say that we will make the effort to do so at the earliest possible date.

Back on November 17 when when asked a leading question about a hypothetical Ban trip, Ri Hung Sik said Ban's UN would have to improve its relations with DPRK. Inner City Press put the audio online here, and embedded below.

 Inner City Press ran back to the UN and asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here:

Inner City Press: here was just a press conference at the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) mission, and there their minister, Ri Hung Sik, asked about the Secretary-General's possible reported trip, said he's heard nothing about it at all and that there are many rumors on the internet.  He also said that this South Korean national security law that makes it illegal for South Korean citizens to speak positively of the DPRK… that's how he described it… should be looked at by the UN.  So I wanted to know, what is the Secretary-General's view of that law?  And if that's an accurate description, is he bound by it?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the law.  As far as Ban Ki-moon, he is the Secretary-General of the United Nations and is doing his duty as such.

   But why did Team Ban play it so coy on Yonhap's report? Now late on November 17, the UN has issues this more specific denial:

"In response to questions asked about a report from Xinhua and the Korean Central News Agency stating that the Secretary-General would be travelling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea next week, the Spokesman had the following to say: The Secretary-General will not be travelling to the DPRK next week. He will be in New York most of the week and then travel to Malta for the Commonwealth Summit. From there, he will go to directly to Paris to attend CoP21. The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that he is willing to play any constructive role, including traveling to the DPRK, in an effort to work for peace, stability and dialogue on the Korean Peninsula."

  Before Inner City Press left the DPRK mission on November 17, it asked Ri Hung Sik for his view of UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman and when or if UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid will visit North Korea.

  Of Darusman, Ri Hung Sik said he met him only once, and that it seems Darusman does not speak his own words, or think his own thoughts. Of Zeid, he said the discussion is of technical cooperation, but no date was given. Video here.

   During the press conference, Reuters asserted that they had been no vote on last year's DPRK human rights resolution. Ri Hung Sik said Reuters was wrong, and it was. Then even though it had earlier cut in with a follow-up questions, Reuters cut off another correspondent trying to ask a follow-up about Qatar, on which Ri Hung Sik cast some blame. There was no question, as at a prior DPRK press conference, about Donald Trump.

  Back on October 28 when Darusman held a press conference about the DPRK, Inner City Press asked him to comment on the recent Intercept report that the US Pentagon used an NGO to spy in North Korea. Would the UN Special Rapporteur advise member states, particularly those concerned about human rights in DPRK, not to use NGOs to spy? Video here.

  Well, no. In fact, Darusman said that such spying might be justified. Video here. Inner City Press asked him about DPRK's allegation that its sailors in the Mudubong ship detained in Mexico were suffering human rights violations. Darusman answered, but it was not clear.

We'll have more on this. Watch this site.


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