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UN's Friends on Myanmar to Meet March 25, UK's Letter Catches Up to Ban

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, March 17 -- Amid criticism of the election laws propounded by Burmese military leader Than Shwe, at the UN on March 25 the Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar will meet, Inner City Press has learned.

  On March 16, after UK prime minister Gordon Brown had been quoted in a government press release that he had sent a letter to S-G Ban Ki-moon requesting an emergency meeting in New York, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban if he had gotten the letter, and if there would be a meeting of his Group of Friends.

  No, Mr. Ban replied, he had not gotten any UK letter. But he said there might be a meeting of the Group of Friends.

  UK Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Lyall Grant, who had no-commented a Press question about Myanmar on his way into the Security Council Tuesday morning, did not come to Wednesday's Council meeting.

 His Deputy Philip Parham came, but split off from Austria's Ambassador and entered the chamber without passing by the press. Austria's Ambassador told Inner City Press that on Myanmar, he had no more information than the day before. 

  But later on Wednesday morning, not from the UK mission, Inner City Press learned that Mr. Ban has requested a meeting of his Group of Friend on March 25. China cannot block it, the source said. The Friends meet when Mr. Ban requests it.

 A question is whether Ban will claim that he was already planning to convene his Group of Friends on Myanmar before getting -- or even hearing about -- Gordon Brown's letter.

  Timing is everything, especially in the absence of action.

UK's Lyall Grant hands off to UN's Ban: Brown letter not shown

   The Press has been told that Tuesday following Mr. Ban's noon press conference at the conclusion of which he told Inner City Press he had no letter from Brown but there might be a meeting of the Friends, the UK's Lyall Grant finally hand delivered Brown's letter to Ban.

Had Ban heard of Brown's letter, and decided to get out in front of it? Or do great or at least Friendly minds think alike?

* * *

As London Calls for Myanmar Elections Meeting, UN Denies Nambiar Trip, His Replacement Vetoed?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 16, updated -- Responding to the election laws proclaimed by Myanmar's military government, excluding Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisons from running for office, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he has requested an emergency meeting at the UN in New York. But what kind of meeting?

  As the UK's Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Lyall Grant walked into the Security Council on Tuesday morning, he was asked about his prime minister's statement: would the UK be asking for a Security Council meeting? He paused, then replied, "Uh, no comment on that, I'll get back to you."

  While one might expect the UK Mission to the UN to be able to, and to be eager to, explain a letter to the UN from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, further inquiry by Inner City Press indicates that Brown's request is for a meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar, which includes among others former Council member Indonesia.

  A former UN correspondent now in Washington reports that "the Burmese military junta is understood to have 'vetoed' the name of Noer Hassan Wirajuda, the former Indonesian foreign minister, as the new UN Envoy for Burma." The UN has denied another portion of this report.

Update: at the conclusion of his March 16 press conference, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon if he had received a letter from Gordon Brown requesting a meeting of his Group of Friends on Myanmar. There may soon be a meeting of the Group of Friends, Mr. Ban answered, but said twice that he has not received a letter from Gordon Brown.
  The UK-MFA press release quotes Gordon Brown that "I have today written to the UN Secretary General to call for an urgent meeting in New York to discuss these developments." So can the UK not deliver a letter?

  Some said that Brown, if and when his letter is delivered, has only requested a meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose chief of staff Vijay Nambiar has replaced previous UN envoy on Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, at least on an interim basis. On March 15, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: did Vijay Nambiar travel to Myanmar? There are some reports that the letter described by the Secretary-General some time ago at his stakeout was in fact delivered by Mr. Nambiar. Can you confirm or deny that?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I have seen one report, not some reports. I’ve seen one report, and I have been in touch with Mr. Nambiar, and he says it’s not true.

  At a reception for the press corp in Nesirky's office Monday evening, Mr. Ban and his deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo appeared, but not Mr. Nambiar.

Gordon Brown in NY by TV, UK Mission and Nambiar not shown

Footnotes: Talk at the reception turned to the Non Aligned Movement's letter to Ban chastising him for announcing he will appoint a panel to advise himself about accountability for possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, a topic on which we hope to have more later today. [Update: Inner City Press asked Ban, click here.]

  And perhaps on the UK request, too. Just after 11 a.m., with the Security Council still meeting about the stage leaks Somalia Sanctions report, the UK's Lyall Grant left the Council, deep in conversation with an aide about "the letter." Did the UK Mission to the UN not get the memo?

  Finally, some note long standing reports that the UK is either dissatisfied with Mr. Nambiar's performance or wants the chief of staff post it previously occupied via Mark Malloch Brown, or both. But, the reasoning goes, to move Nambiar out of the chef de cabinet post but keep him as (India's) Under Secretary General, he would need the Myanmar envoy post. If it is being filled by another, how might this game of musical chairs end? Watch this site.

* * *

As Myanmar Torches Karen Villages, Who If Anyone At UN Is Watching Is UNclear, No Nargis Follow Up Alleged

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- On Myanmar, the UN has yet to name a replacement for its previous envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Amid reports of government soldiers torching villages and targeting medical workers in the Karen minority regions, Inner City Press on February 11 asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky is the UN was aware of these reports, and what it was doing.

  "It is possible that the UN is aware," Nesirky said, adding that "I'm personally not aware." He said, "I see if I can find out who inside the Organization is following this and knows something about it." Video here, from Minute 5:49.

  When Mr. Gambari was re-assigned to Darfur, Inner City Press exclusively reported (on December 14) and then the UN confirmed (on January 7) that that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar was taking over the Myanmar jurisdiction that had been Gambari's.

  Mr. Nesirky was questioned extensive about this, including the still unanswered question by Inner City Press of how Gambari was compensated by the UN once the Iraq related portion of his take home pay was eliminated. (There is a similarly unanswered question outstanding from Inner City Press about how Ban's other advisor Robert Orr is paid.)

  So, one would expect Mr. Nambiar to be identified as the person ostensibly following Myanmar and reports of torching of Karen villages. Inner City Press also asked about reports of the government increasingly denying and delaying visa for humanitarian workers trying to get to the regions impacted by Cyclone Nargis.

UN's Ban and Than Shwe, torched Karen villages not shown

  Mr. Ban made statements about saving people there. One would expect follow through, particularly by his chief of staff, at least on the Nargis humanitarian issues. But even the Tripartite Core Group, which includes representative from the Than Shwe military government, is painting a bleak view.

   So where is the UN? Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is headed to the country again, after a November postponement that UN spokesman Nesirky has said he will look into and explain.

  Will Quintana raise the Karen issues, and visit that region? On previous trips, he's acknowledged to Inner City Press, he traveled about the country with military helicopters and escorts. Perhaps if this continues, one wag speculated, they'll let him meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

* * *

On Myanmar, UN Confirms Nambiar, Ban More Vague, Gambari's Income Stream

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- With the UN shifting Ibrahim Gambari to a post in Darfur, the UN's "good office" position for Myanmar became vacant. Back on December 14, Inner City Press exclusively reported that Gambari's replacement on Myanmar would at least initially be Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar:

UNITED NATIONS, December 14 -- The UN's Myanmar portfolio, now that Ibrahim Gambari is being reassigned to Darfur, will be handled by chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, Inner City Press has been informed by more than one well placed UN source.

  The genial Nambiar fell under fire, given his fraternal and Indian connections, when he handled Sri Lanka. Some wonder if Myanmar will be different. In any event, this type of assignment should be publicly announced.

  While the UN Office of the Spokesperson, even after that report, declined to confirm to Inner City Press Nambiar's position, on January 6 Spokesman Martin Nesirky in a surreal seven minute colloquy stated that Gambari "is due to take up his new position...from 15 January. And, in the meantime, the Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, is overseeing the Secretary-General’s good offices and the engagement with the Government of Myanmar."

But, after Nesirky cut off further questions by saying he had to run upstairs to the Security Council because "the Secretary-General is probably going to come to the stakeout and I have to stand next to him, that’s the limit," Mr. Ban fell back on earlier, less specific talking points.

"I am also in the process of identifying a candidate who can take Mr. Gambari's responsibilities. I am not leaving this position open. Even during this time, either Mr. Gambari, or some other senior officers within the Secretariat, are taking this job, and the responsibilities."

  So, even though Nambiar is his own chief of staff, Mr. Ban would not say his name, unlike Nesirky less than an hour before. Could it be attributable to an increasingly wide spread analysis that to assign a long time Indian diplomat to deal with Myanmar, where India has major economic interests, is belatedly viewed as a problem? Or is it just reflexive lack of transparency?

  Ban's seeming contradiction to Inner City Press' December 14 report was noted elsewhere - but the Dec. 14 report has been confirmed.

UN's Ban, Gambari and Nambiar, economics not shown

  On that, Inner City Press on January 6 asked Nesirky a factual question about the Myanmar good office post, Gambari and his successor(s) --

Inner City Press: On Mr. Gambari, I was told that he’s an Under-Secretary-General, his actual salary was cobbled together between the Iraq post and the Myanmar post and, following losing the Iraq post, this played some role in assigning him to Darfur. One, I would like you to confirm that his post was not paid out of the general kitty, but was, in fact, put together by the two jobs. And also whether his replacement will be an Under-Secretary General, or at some lower level. This was described to me by somebody that understands the budget. The question is whether his post was funded as a regular Under-Secretary General post, or whether it was put together out of two income streams and that’s part of the reason for the change.

Spokesperson: Well, you’ll probably have a golden opportunity tomorrow to ask Angela Kane precisely that question on the budget.

Inner City Press: Since I asked it here, I have other questions for Angela Kane. So if there’s some way on the Gambari front for you to look into this…

Spokesperson: I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to answer questions related to Angela Kane, when she’s going to be here tomorrow to answer them herself.

Inner City Press: Do you ensure that she’ll take this question?

Spokesperson: I’m going to be sitting next to her. But, that’s not the same as saying that I ensure that you get precisely the question you want. I’ll do my very best. If there’s a room full with people asking questions, it’s good to be able to spread it around a bit.

Inner City Press: If she doesn’t answer it, then consider yourself asked.

Spokesperson: I consider myself asked all the time, Matthew.

Inner City Press: But I also wanted to ask…

Spokesperson: No, no you don’t.

  While in Myanmar they also control and cut off questions from the media, they don't do it with so deftly. Watch this site.

Footnote: a previously holder of the UN's Myanmar good offices post supplemented his income by engaging in telecommunications and other business deals in the country. One wag mused that perhaps this "living off the land," as for example the ex-rebel armed groups the UN supports in the Congo do, might be the way for Gambari's replacement to replace the Iraq post income stream.

* * *

UN Now Rations Questions, Passes Buck on Nepotism, of Kosovo and Double Standards

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- The new UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky on January 6 told the Press, "You can ask one more question, your choice." Even when he could not or would not answer the question asked, about the UN's continued losses to Myanmar strongman Than Shwe in forced currency exchange, he did not allow a second question, about the UN in Kosovo. Video here, from Minute 26:47.

  Inner City Press asked, Is there some limit? Is there a new system to ration or apportion questions being instituted? Earlier in the day's noon briefing, Nesirky had engaged for a full seven minutes with one correspondent, telling him "I'm enjoying this as much as you are." Video here, from Minute 9:36 to 16:36.

  Nesirky's stated rationale for rationing further questions was that the "Secretary General is going to speak at the stakeout and I have to stand next to him." But Nesirky disallowed simple and short factual questions before 12:30, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did not arrive at the Security Council stakeout until after 12:45.

  Mr. Nesirky said he would keep a list of questions asked, to ensure that they were answered. But, while still early in his tenure, Nesirky has taken to only selectively answering questions. Since last week, a question has been pending with his Office of Ban Ki-moon's son in law and what has been called nepotism not only by Inner City Press but also the Washington Post.

  Some surmise that Nesirky's seeming double standard -- seven minutes allowed to a correspondent from a British daily who may or may not even use the answer this week, while disallowing questions from an online publication which covers the UN for better and worse every day -- reflects a certain media elitism.

  Nesirky previously worked for the UK-based wire service Reuters, covering among other capitals that of South Korea, Seoul. Some are watching out for favorable treatment to Reuters, but the January 6 noon briefing reflected at best bad time management skills, and functionally, a form of media elitism.

  While providing questionable answered about the entry into Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's residence of a person neither invited nor even a UN staff member, Nesirky told Inner City Press, "This is not a story." Perhaps within Reuters he could make that judgment. But as another correspondent pointed out at the January 6 briefing, it is not the UN Spokesman's role.

  Increasingly, when Nesirky does not want to answer a question in the briefing he says that it was answered elsewhere, then refuses to repeat the answer. On January 5 he did this with regard to the UN's position on Al Shaabab in Somalia demanding that humanitarian workers there not promote democracy or human rights.

  Nesirky said that Peter Smerdon of WFP in Nairobi had answered the question. Had he? Previously Nesirky said Smerdon answered with regard to Al Shabaab trying to charge $20,000.

  On January 6, Inner City Press wanted to ask Nesirky for the UN's reply to Al Shaabab's statement in Mogadishu that they never tried to charge WFP $20,000. But Nesirky said, no more questions.

  The Kosovo question that he half-heard and then cut off concerned a request from Serbian president Boris Tadic to the "international institutions" in Pristina, presumably including the UN, to arrange a visit to Kosovo.

  Did the UN receive the request? What does it think of it?  The question was cut off and disallowed. Ban Ki-moon was previously criticized for dodging the question of whether Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence complied with international law. This is the UN's job. And to take and answer questions is the UN Spokesperson's job.

UN's new spokesman, who some now call "NeSmirky," a work in progress

   When he can't say that a question has previously been answered, Nesirky will defer to a future answer which may never be given. On January 6, Inner City Press asked him to confirm that Ibrahim Gambari's salary was paid by a mixture of the UN's funds for Myanmar and for Iraq, a post Gambari lost. Nesirky said, you can asked USG for Management Angela Kane tomorrow.

  Inner City Press has other questions for Ms. Kane, including some unanswered by Nesirky's office. Nesirky said he couldn't guarantee that Ms. Kane could be asked, or would answer, the question. Inner City Press tried to ask another question, and Nesirky cut in, "No you don't." Video here, from Minute 21:53. The total elapsed time was less then two minutes, versus the previous seven minute colloquy.

  Even when questions are put to his Office in writing, not only about Mr. Ban's son in law but also other nepotism questions, referred to the UN in Cote d'Ivoire and never answered, and simple questions about the UN's work in the Bakassi Peninsula, Cameroon and Nigeria. Mr. Nesirky has said he would keep a list of questions asked, to ensure that they were answered. That list is getting longer, while it is still early in his tenure. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

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

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

* * *

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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