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At the UN, Protesters Ask Ban Ki-moon to Do More to Help Free Hostages in Afghanistan

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 6 -- A protest in front of the UN on Monday called for the freeing of the 21 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan. A subtext, which the UN does not want to touch, is a direct call on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to get more involved.

    One of the hostages, 32-year old nurse Lim Hyun-joo, made a direct plea to Ban over the weekend, and Monday at the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq for any comment on the plea, and for a list of Ban's communications about the hostages, and for where Ban is traveling. (Ban's official schedule for Monday said "traveling," although Inner City Press reported last Thursday that his August 3 jaunt to Barbados was to be extended into a vacation.)

            Ban's spokesman said that things are "too sensitive" to list the calls that have been made. In response to Inner City Press' questions about Ban's travels, the spokesman said he can get a lot done, even while traveling "in the Caribbean."  New video here

            Last week, a spokesman for South Korea's main opposition Grand National Party Kim Chung-hwan was quoted that legislators would meet U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ban Ki-moon to discuss the hostage issue. When Inner City Press asked if the meeting would take place, the answer was no, later explained by Mr. Ban's vacation (and anger at getting sucked into a seemingly un-winnable hostage drama).

Protest, UN, Who Are You?, Aug. 6, cell phone photo by M.R. Lee

            The issue is not any lack of caring on Ban's part. But if one is on vacation, one is on vacation. Why not disclose it? One correspondent opined, "To not run into the same problem as the Iraqi parliament," whose vacations plans have led to outrage including in the U.S. Congress. Why not then at least disclose what steps are being taken, from the undisclosed location? The press has already twice reported on Ban's call to Iranian foreign minister Mottaki, and to Pakistan's Musharraf. Who else has Mr. Ban called? What else is being done? Protesters in front of the UN on Monday said they wanted to know. Developing.

Ban in Panama (Barbados not shown)

   End-notes: Another speaker at the protest called for a strike on volunteerism until these hostages are released. A flier was distributed by the legislative director for NYS Assembly member Ellen Young, saying she joins with the Korean American Community Empowerment Council, Inc. and Korean American Associations of Greater New York, New Jersey, Long Island, Central Queens and Flushing in calling for the "Korean, German and Afghan captives... to be set free and reunited with their family."

   Across First Avenue, another protest called for UN action on the military coup in Bangladesh, including the freeing of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Some say that Bangladesh is another issue on which the UN has done little, other than state that the arrest of UN human rights expert Sigma Huda was not in the course of her UN work.

  Others question why one protest was allowed to move along the side of First Avenue next to the UN, while the other was confined across the avenue in Ralph Bunche park. But that's another story...

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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

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