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At UN, Myanmar Pledging Under U.S. Shadow, France Fades, Oil Companies Give A Little Back

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 9 -- In the debate about aid to Myanmar, six days after Cyclone Nargis hit, the United States was a major presence, while France seemingly dropped out of sight. After loudly calling for a humanitarian intervention under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, at a pledging session Friday, France offered what appeared to be less than $1 million, compared for example to $10 million from Japan.

  The U.S. came in at $3.25 million, and on his way out of the session, Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, hey, why only a third of Japan's pledge? It's just a beginning, Amb. Khalilzad said. He referred to Myanmar's stated agreement to allow in a C-130 Hercules plane full of aid on Monday. Inner City Press asked for the U.S. view on Myanmar's seizure of two UN World Food Program planes on the tarmac in Yangon. I have nothing on that, Amb. Khalilzad said.

            In fact, the head of the World Food Program, American Josette Sheeran who used to be with the State Department, has been during the cyclone crisis not at WFP's Rome headquarters, but in the United States. Given the tensions between the Bush Administration -- even, the Bush family -- and the Myanmar military government, one wonders if having an American, in America, heading the WFP at this time is helpful. Then again, the other candidates for the top WFP post were also Westerners. One of them, Tony Banbury, also American, was quoted seemingly breaking the embargo on the release of the UN's "flash appeal," hours before UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes unveiled the written plan Friday afternoon at the UN.

            After Holmes spoke, countries got in line to speak and make their pledges. It appeared that Holmes' office, OCHA, had ordered the speakers by size of pledge. Japan went first, with its $10 million. This made for mutterings about cheapness, as some other countries ponied up $50,000 or less. Turkey said it would give $1 million, that this was "already in the Mission's bank account" and would be given on Monday, half of it specifically directed to UNICEF. The UN Development Program wasn't the subject of similar praise, but appears in the written flash appeal, for over $3.5 million. The Food and Agriculture Organization, which Senegalese president Wade is now threatening to sue for diverting money from Africa, is in line for $10 million.

Two companies pledge to Myanmar - is blood money implied? See below, Total's is more than France

            In the hall outside the pledging session, a representative of the Sri Lankan delegation said that country gave $25,000, and was considering sending medical supplies, "bilaterally." Inner City Press asked Holmes about this, why most of OCHA's information concerns Western donors. While Holmes said OCHA has great contacts in Asia, it seems significant that many Asian countries not only don't give through the UN, they don't even tell the UN what they are giving.

            Indonesia's Ambassador Marty Natalegawa stopped to tell Inner City Press, in light of the Asian pledges announced or revealed on Friday, that the Western media should not "caricature" the situation, as if only Western countries care about Myanmar.  Simultaneously, actress Anjelica Huston was speaking to some reporters amid poster board photos of monks and maps saying "Burma."  Inner City Press ran and asked her, do you support France's invocation of the Responsibility to Protect, to intervene in Myanmar even without consent?

            Ms. Huston nodded and said, "By whatever means, yes."

            Inner City Press asked, Including the use of force?

            No, Ms. Huston said. And therein lies the rub. A TV reporter asked her, "Has it been frustrating for you in the past two days?" And with that we'll fade out.

Follow the money footnote: While the UN on Friday sought pledges of aid to post-cyclone Myanmar, corporations making money in Myanmar moved in a different world. Unocal, now Chevron, has been sued for using slave labor in the country. The France-based Total has faced similar charges. Both companies have now announced $2 million contributions -- that the figures are identical might smack of collusion, even anti-trust problems. But the "corporate social responsibility" repercussions are more serious, and will be explored on this site. For now we note that France-based Total has pledged more than the French government. Developing.

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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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