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UN Has No Answers in Myanmar or N. Korea, Peacekeeping Losses from Poland, Ivorian Rebels

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 6 -- From Ivory Coast to Pakistan, peacekeeping to security, at UN headquarters it was a week of questions pre-screened and evaded, or answered sometimes late. On February 2, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe four questions, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka, Quetta to Niger. None were substantively answered.

  To criticism of UN envoy Gambari's trip to Myanmar, there was no response. Nor would Ms. Okabe say if the UN is even trying to determine who is responsible for the hospital bombing in Sri Lanka. The security phase in Quetta, she said, is confidential. And on the disappearance of Robert Fowler in Niger, she said she had no news, would provide it as soon as she had it.

   On February 3, four new questions and again no answers. Did Gambari asked to meet Myanmar's strong man Than Shwe? Okabe said she had nothing on that. On fighting in the Ivory Coast among the New Forces rebels, any comment from Ban Ki-moon's envoy Mr. Choi? No. Was India asked to contribute more peacekeepers in the Congo, even though Congo has said they don't want troops from that country? Okabe said the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would answer, but three days later it has not. There are other questions pending there.  On the reported refoulement at sea of refugees from Myanmar by Thailand, nothing.

  After Tuesday's briefing, Inner City Press was approached and asked to submit questions to the UN Spokesperson's office before and outside of the daily noon briefing. While this can't be required, Inner City Press then e-mailed some questions, on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning to the Spokesperson's office. But the majority of questions weren't answered. That wasn't the point, it was explained, to turn the Office into a "one stop shop" to ask questions to. The point was to pre-screen the questions to be asked at noon. But even those weren't answered on February 4

  On Poland's announcement of pull-out from UN peacekeeping missions in Chad, Golan and Lebanon, Ban hadn't yet spoken with the Poles. Apparently, two days later he has still not spoken, because no response has been provided. Did the UN apologize to Sri Lanka for alleging cluster bombs? Not known. In the face of the UN's silence, the Sri Lankan government has trumpeted an apology online.

   Other still-unanswered questions include security, and

- i-Seek says that Mr. Choi of ICT reports 'to the executive office of the SG".  Will he have a "management compact" between himself and the SG?

- who are the vendors associated with PACT at UNHQ in para 25 of A-63-605.pdf?

  Inner City Press asked, "is there a UN statement on reported killing of 25 civilians by UNISOM inSomalia more than 24 hours ago?" For the UN system's response, click here.

At UN, big screen but few answers

  On February 5, Spokesperson Michele Montas returned. Of three questions asked by Inner City Press, one was answered: the Secretariat's use of the word "Georgia" in its Abkhazia report was intentional and will continue until ordered otherwise by the Security Council, which itself has stopped using the word in connection with the observer mission, even in the monthly program of work.  Could Ms. Montas confirm the receipt of a reported seven-page letter to Ban from Jamaat ud Dawa? No, she'd look into it. A day later, no response. Any response to North Korea's move to test a long range missile, which South Korea says violates a UN resolution? No comment.

  [We'll stop here to report that Kyoto News' report last weekend of the U.S. and Japan ordering UNDP to pull back from North Korea now appears to have been false, denied by a U.S. diplomat speaking under that name, and by Japan's Ambassador on the record. The correspondent is new, Inner City Press was told, and chided for missing the scoop of UNDP's pre-missile return.]

  Finally on Friday, again only one question of of the four that Inner City Press asked was answered, and that one only partially. No, Ban Ki-moon is not calling for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, only for the government's military operations to be conducted in compliance with international law. Ms. Montas said she hadn't heard of the controversy about the UN's envoy to Somalia's anti-press remarks, and was unable too of UN-affiliated journalist Heby Aly's expulsion from Sudan. Is the UN in favor of Liberian mercenaries who fought in Ivory Coast getting paid, and if so by who? It's under deliberation, Ms. Montas replied. We will follow all this next week. Compare to a week in November 2008, here. Are things getting better?

Footnote: in fairness, many correspondents spread the blame to what they call the 38th floor, including the Department of Political Affairs, which keep the Spokespeople in the dark, and can't even fax down their statements until 12:15 or 12:20. Also, the Spokesperson's Office was left to read out the UN Mission in the Congo's categorical denial of Doctors Without Borders' report on MONUC's failings in North Congo -- which MONUC later quietly qualified in a letter to the NGO. More generally, if the Department of Peacekeeping Operations answered questions in real time some of the load would be lifted from the Spokesperson's Office. Stil...

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

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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