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At the UN, Rumi Tunes Show Softer Side of Ban, Myanmar Efforts Unclear

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 26 -- Amid disputes not only about Darfur but even about whether the African Union was invited to the meeting on Darfur attended by Ban Ki-moon in Paris on Monday, Tuesday at UN headquarters a strange peace descended, from eight centuries ago by way of a digital music synthesizer.

            In celebration of the poetry and music of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, UN Conference Room 4 filled up to overflowing. There were bodyguards aplenty, for Ban Ki-moon and Mrs. Ban, and unobtrusive for once, for U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Iran's Ambassador was there, soon to leave New York, still being feted.

            Mr. Ban gave a speech, tying Rumi to the UN's Alliance of Civilizations. He also mentioned love. General Assembly president Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa spoke, in Arabic, of Rumi's story of those who were "touching his elephants" (without realizing what they were).

     Afghanistan's permanent representative to the UN noted that rather than fight over Rumi, his country and Iran and Turkey had all agreed to share him. He wrote 70,000 verses, mostly in Persian. Some few dozen were read out, and translated, and then the music began.

    It was mesmerizing. A synthesizer played circular and sad; the sound of panpipes weaved in and out, punctuated by chimes and other rhythm. Ban Ki-moon sat pensive; even his bodyguard sat down. There was Vijay Nambiar, who some in the building say may not stay long in his job, titular chief of staff "not even chosen by India," one insider source disclaims.

            But it was not a night for politics, but music and reflection, and then for cheap wordplay. One wag riffed -- inappropriately, for sure -- about the many meanings of Rumi. Roomy as in spacious; roomie as in roommate. Rheumy as one who has a runny nose. Rumi! This is a poet who's work has stood the test of time.

Mr. Ban and his double in Doha, Rumi not shown

            Music in the UN recalls a quite different anecdote, retold in the recent book "Independent Diplomat," about when Security Council experts began choosing songs to play before their sessions. It led, as Rumi would have (it), to more meetings of the mind. But when Reuters reported it, those incensed by Iraq sanctions saw it as cavalier.

            For whom did Tuesday's Rumi music play? Perhaps the rest of the week will tell. Another side of Ban we'd be remiss to not report, amid a wider frustration with continued lack of transparency, is that the man works hard. One recent example involves the UN's labor issues. As Inner City Press reported, the New York Staff Union quoted Ban recently as not knowing much about the Staff-Management process, click here for that. But then late last week, Ban met with union representatives from elsewhere in the system. He asked rep after rep detailed questions about their issues. Clearly, he had studied. And in fairness we report it.

   Now if only that degree of seriously could be applied to human rights, without regard to the pet peeves and vetoes of the Council's Permanent Five. Or even if that effort could be devoted to making sure that his own envoy on Children and Armed Conflict could meet with those with power in Myanmar. On Tuesday, Inner City Press asked:

Question:  Can I ask you something about Myanmar?  The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is there, and itís said that it's not clear yet if the Government, or who in the Government of Myanmar, is going to meet with her on the issue of children and armed conflict.  Has either the Secretary-General or Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari or anyone in the Secretariat reached out to the Myanmar Government to see that this visit is actually met by the appropriate Government officials?

Spokesperson:  I don't know at this point, but I can inquire for you.

  This later inquiry, by  hard-working staffer, yielded this:

"Concerning your question today at the noon, we don't have a list of specific meetings of the SRSG in Myanmar. Her office will issue a press release on her visit on Friday -- and you can of course pick that up here."

            But as subsequently pointed out, the question wasn't only with whom she would meet, but what efforts Mr. Ban, Mr. Gambari and others were and are making. We'll see.

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