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At UN, Korean Staff Rise from 51 to 70 in Ban's Two Years, on Pianos and Lobbyists, An Evolution

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 20 -- As Ban Ki-moon approaches his third year UN Secretary-General, the tug of his home country South Korea remains in evidence, which some around him seek to change. During a trip last month to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines, South Korean business representatives sought repeatedly to meet Ban, and even got themselves listed on his schedule, until a staffer took them off. The just-released List of UN Staff as of July 1, 2008 shows 70 South Korean UN staff, up from 51 two years ago. Of the top five official in the Office of the Secretary-General, three are Korean, including Kim Won-soo, the advisor sometimes called Ban's brain, in a reference to Karl Rove and George W. Bush.

   In Ban's first half-year at the UN, questions about what some called the Koreanization of the UN were met with denials and even threats. Inner City Press sought the List of Staff as of July 1, 2006 and was told that it would not be released. Obtaining a copy nonetheless, Inner City Press published the list of Korea staff, as a baseline. Ban's Spokesperson's Office complained, saying that the list could not be published. As an accommodation, Inner City Press then redacted the names from the list, and is not running most full names in this then-promised update article.

  We note, however, that for the last name Choi, there were three UN staff in mid-2007, and seven in mid-2008.  The new hires include Under Secretary General Choi Young-Jin, head of the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire, and Assistant Secretary General Choi Soon Hong, Ban's chief technology officer. To be fair, Han Seung-Soo has fallen off the list, as he returned to South Korea to serve as Prime Minister. Some predict more of this eastward migration.  More generally, a Ban administration shake-up is predicted for early 2009, on which we will report.

UN's Ban on recent trip, un-scheduling of Korean businessmen not shown

  At Ban's December 17 holiday party, he told the press that only the day before, a Korean company had donated a piano for his Sutton Place residence. Some sought to snoop around to see the renovated kitchen used, it has been reported, by Ban's own Korean chef. Inner City Press chose not to look around, and as luck would have it handed Ban a wine glass when he needed one to make a toast. Ban's scheduler, Yoon Yeocheol, joked genially that "you are taking over my job." Ban introduced a pianist, also Korean, who played with energy his own classical composition. 

  South Korea's contributions to UN Peacekeeping have gone up; statements have been made about the Millennium Development Goals and climate change. Relations between North and South Korea have not meaningfully improved, what with North Korea's recent expulsion of Southerners.

   An internal Ban administration memo strategizing how Ban's UN could take a central role in Korean Peninsula matters, Inner City Press' reporting on which also led to push-back and a refusal to comment on leaked documents, has not borne fruit. One if left wondering if, just as Team Ban never announced the appointment of Robert Fowler as their envoy to Niger, there might be a stealth envoy to the Korean Peninsula whose existence and name has not been announced.

   Other than on some officials' voluntary public financial disclosure, the UN's transparency has yet to improve under Ban. Only this week, Inner City Press was told that the list of UN envoys should not be publicized or provided, and that even the terms of Robert Fowler's mandate are confidential.  Click here for more. In connection with this month's Middle East Quartet meeting in New York, letters to and from Tony Blair in his UN role on the Quartet were not disclosed or even summarized.

  Speaking of letters, at his holiday party Ban told the press of a Korean saying, that if you really love a girl, a potential girlfriend, you should write her ten love letters before getting some answer from her. While his point was not entirely clear -- other than his obvious and endearing love for his wife -- it appeared to concern persistence, which among with independence is needed not only in running but also in covering the United Nations.

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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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