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Myanmar Exchange Rate Is "Difficult," UN's Holmes Will Review in Yangon, Council June 24

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 16 -- In Myanmar in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the UN system had "serious losses of 20%" exchanging currency with the military government, as well as making inflated purchases from state-owned petroleum enterprises, record seen by Inner City Press show. A week after asking head UN humanitarian John Holmes to describe how currency is converted in Myanmar, on Wednesday he said he will be in Yangon next week and will check on the issue.

  Holmes re-launched a Consolidated Appeal for funding on Wednesday, alongside Rudy Von Bernuth of the International Save the Children Alliance, who said that Save the Children following Nargis has received $29 million from the UN for its Myanmar work. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Von Bernuth how and at what rate Save the Children exchanges money in Myanmar. "You have to ask our London office," he answered. We have, but the answer is strange, from International Save the Children Alliance just after a statement at the UN about receiving $29 million from the UN.

  Another humanitarian who passed through the UN on Wednesday was Eric Laroche, now at the World Health Organization, previously humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, and further back with UNICEF in Myanmar.  While he has committed now to explain how WHO exchanges money in Myanmar, when Inner City Press asked if he thinks it legitimate to accept a low exchange rate from a government in order to have access, he stayed silent for a full eight seconds before saying, "It's a very difficult question, and a more difficult answer. It has to do with principles." Video here, from Minute 51:46. He said that when he was in the country with UNICEF, auditors were told about the exchange rate arrangements with the government.

UN car in Myanmar, June 2008 Than Shwe exchange rate not shown

   Pending Sir John Holmes' report-back from Myanmar, it can also be reported that internal UN documents show that much of the rice purchases by the UN after the cyclone was bought from Myanmar itself. Later a shift was made to imports, attributable to "government image and not availability" of rice, according to the records.

Footnote: This month's Vietnamese president of the Security Council stated on Wednesday that an agreement has been reached for the Council to have a briefing on Myanmar before the end of the month. Inner City Press is told it will be on July 24... Watch this site. And this --


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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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