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UN's Ban Blandly Calls Critics Unfair, While Avoiding Critical Questions and Ignoring Somalia War

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 16 -- Today's rare sit-down press conference of Ban Ki-moon was used by Team Ban as an opportunity to calls his critics "unfair," and to inveigh against journalists actually speaking to UN staff as basis for their stories.

    Unlike press conferences in the Kofi Annan era, questions replying to claims about the Secretariat's transparency and even-handedness, including from critics, were not even allowed. One reporter -- not this one -- said loudly, "This press conference is a joke," and walked out of the room. He was far from alone in the sentiment expressed.

            In another glaring omission, there was nary a mention of Somalia, a country which an already-postponed Reconciliation Congress was adjourned amid mortar fire on Sunday. Ban mentioned Darfur and North Korea, Kosovo, Israel, Syria and Cyprus -- but not a word on Somalia.

   Early on Monday, Inner City Press had e-mailed  three UN spokespeople, two of them Ban's, detailed questions about Somalia. Barely one was answered in writing before Ban's press conference (see below); Inner City Press, which was granted a question in each of Kofi Annan's press conferences in 2006, was not allowed any questions.

            Another issue that thus didn't come up was Ban Ki-moon's commitment to transparency and, specifically, whistle-blowing. Ban mentioned he has met with the UN Development Program's top two officials, Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert; Ban said that the "first phase" of the UNDP audit of North Korea programs showed that "not much money was misused."

   There was no follow-up on that statement, nor were any questions about whistle-blowers allowed. Inner City Press has been told that the UN Staff Union directly raised the issue of the specific UNDP whistle-blower to Mr. Ban, personally. Thereafter, the whistleblower's photograph was placed in a UN Security photo array to not be allowed on UN premises.

            On his move to close or consolidate the Office of Special Advisor on Africa, Ban referred to -- hid behind, some afterwards said -- long time Kofi Annan advisor Ibrahim Gambari, and his choice of Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy S-G. He implicitly criticized Botswanan Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the former holder of the Office, saying that the consolidation is response to how the Office was managed in the past few years. A correspondent told Ban directly that African diplomats are less than pleased. We'll see.

Mr. Ban adrift at sea: I can't hear you

    On Somalia, Inner City Press e-mailed to the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General three questions early Monday morning:

"there's a report that the UN cancelled a flight into Mogadishu... to the National Reconciliation Congress... why was the UN flight cancelled?  When is it being resumed? And beyond the $200,000, how much money passes through units of the UN system (incl. UNDP, which has refused to respond to this question) from donors to the Transitional Federal Government and / or Congress organizers?"

    Just before Ban's press conference, one of the three questions was answered:

"the UN envoy Francois Fall was planning to attend the NRC on a UN flight, but that plan was cancelled due to security reasons. As far as we know this only affected the UN participation on Sunday.  Other members of the international community had arranged flights separately."

   It seemed fair to assume that Ban at his press conference would speak about Somalia, or at least that a question on the topic, from media already on record with inquiries about the United Nations' approach to Somalia, would be allowed. But not at Ban's UN.

            On Kosovo, a correspondent asked for the implications of Ban's position on Kosovo to other frozen conflicts -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestia. Ban responded blandly that Kosovo is "sui generis." Ironically, regarding his unnoticed July 29 stop and presidential meeting in Georgia, on which the OSSG has refused to provide any read-out whatsoever, Ban made no mention, repeatedly calling his a trip to Afghanistan and then Western European capitals. Ban read from notes, from a script with pink stick-on index tabs.

            As Inner City Press live-blogged (until the refusal to allow critical questions became clear), Ban deployed a few pre-scripted jokes, about in London dealing with "Browns, Gordon and Mark Malloch," and about going to San Francisco to meet "the Governator."

            Ban made it a point to say what his director of communications has been repeating like a mantra to those he invites upstairs -- "there are only two senior South Koreans," Ban Ki-moon and Kim Won-soo. (While leaving the briefing room, Inner City Press asked Kim Won-soo to himself take questions at a press conference. It was Team Ban's delay in acknowledging that Mr. Kim was made an Assistant Secretary General which alerted even otherwise disinterested journalists into these issues, it has been continued stonewalling and demands for secrecy which have given the story momentum.)

   Ban on Monday said he also has a South Korean scheduler, who "is not senior," and a secretary. He did not mention Mr. Kweon Ki-hwan, who he placed in the Department of Management, nor a similar placement in the Office of the Spokesperson.

    Ban did not address his pick of a South Korean to lead-up all of the UN's information technology, nor his quiet July 13 appointment of Lee Jo-jin as chairman of the U.N. Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. There are also circulating -- "in the halls," as Ban might dismissively say, and did at his press conference Monday -- talk of further Republic of Korea help-staff, not based on the 38th floor. If Team Ban wants to address the issue, one reporter said upon leaving, they might want to allow questions from the media raising the issues. Or not, apparently. Welcome to Ban's UN.

* * *

Given Ban's omission of Somalia, click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, and note the cancellation of the UN's pre-Congress flight to Mogadishu.

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