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At UN, Colombia Serves Coffee, Anti-FARC Spin in Council Bid, Delegates' Might Close

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- Amid writhing dancers, drums and a soprano saxophone, Colombia on Thursday night at the UN promoted its candidacy for the Security Council in 2011-2012.

  In a more cloak and dagger fashion, a subtext was that the UN should not be speaking with the FARC rebels. Under the banner of children and armed conflict, a diplomat complained, the UN is seeking to give credence to the rebels, who are losing. One size, the diplomat said, does not fit all.

  Up on the stage, with the East River as a backdrop, Colombian dancers moved quickly. Some Ambassadors gaped. This, one said, is what Security Council reform should be all about.

  Also working hard was Uzbekistan's Permanent Representative. He spoke to Inner City Press, emphasizing his country's bona fides despite the closure of the border. He lobbied the UK and other Permanent Five members. He was more mobile than the wait staff, which distributed lamb chops and small bowls of ceviche.

  Of under secretaries general, those of management and public information were visible. Turkey's Ambassador stood appreciating music. Brazil's greeted all and sundry. Both voted no on Iran sanctions. While Iran did not appear, North Korea put in an appearance. Out the window ships passed by.

  Russia's Vitaly Churkin was in attendance, and was asked by a journalist-- not this one -- whether a family member working for Russia Today let slip that he might take over from Lavrov. Churkin denied it all. There: for the record.

Rio Sucio, children and armed conflict and Colombian klezmer not shown

  Colombia's swag bag contained a pound of Juan Valdez coffee, in a small burlap bag one could imagine on a burro. They have an office in Beijing. That, as they say, is the future.

Footnote: Sadly, the Delegates' Lounge where this took place might soon be a thing of the past. Due to UN planning, a week ago Aramark stopped food service in the UN cafeteria at 2:30 instead of 7:30. Now the buzz among employees is that the Delegates' will close, due to lack of business. What made the UN, the UN, is all falling by the wayside. Diplomacy is suffering, but no one seems to care.

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At UN, Buck Passed on Somali Child Soldiers and Cheonan, UNESCO Bars Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- Mexico's month atop the UN Security Council ended Wednesday with a whimper not a bang. There was a debate in the morning on Afghanistan, with few mentions of McCrystal. Apparently no Council member even raised the matter of murdered UN staff member Louis Maxwell while in Kabul.

In the afternoon, the UNDOF mandate was extended. But it was only for six months, not twelve, due to a failure to consult. Still outgoing Council president Claude Heller put a brave face on it, saying that six months was “normal.”

Throughout Wednesday afternoon, Japan media swarmed around the stakeout, hungry for any action on the sunken Cheonan ship. But all that happened was the hand over from Mexico to Nigeria. Some worried about a North Korean surprise for the US July 4 holiday.

Inner City Press asked Heller one last question:

Inner City Press: I wanna ask a non Cheonan question. This issue that came up that the UN supported the TFG of Somalia using child soldiers. Where does it go from here? I know that it didn’t seem to come up on [inaudible]. In your role as chair of the CAAC, when will that be …

Claude Heller: This issue is in the agenda of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and it should be considered in the next two months. I don’t have the date, but it’s in the agenda. We have to consider this and make recommendations on the cases, of course depending on the information that we get. But its in the agenda of the Working Group. Well, thank you very much.

   And then some journalists applauded.

UNDOF 1970s, plus ca change

 They headed through the UN garage to the farewell party for Marie Okabe of the spokesperson's office. Some reporters had been lined up to ask planted questions, where Marie is going (the UN in DC) and who will fill her shoes (no one can, Martin Nesirky answered; the recruitment process is unclear.)

At least the reporters were invited. Down the hall in the UN's press room, most journalists were excluded from the staged TV debate of UNFPA and UNESCO. Inner City Press, which was on record as wanting an answer on UNESCO's dalliance with Equatorial Guinea, was barred from entering the room. UNESCO, then, barring journalists.

Footnote: to update a previous Inner City Press UN footnote, while the journalists have proposed including bloggers in the UN accreditation guidelines, it now emerges that the UN is opposed. This is ironic, given the Department of Public Information's involvement in "blogging," to the highest levels. Watch this site.

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At UN, Mexico's Month Marked by Margaritas and a S.Korean Ship, From Flotilla to Tortillas

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- It began with the flotilla and ended with tortillas. It was June's Mexican presidency of the UN Security Council, celebrated Tuesday night by Ambassadors and diplomats and Asha Rose Migiro, the Deputy Secretary General. She chatted with July's president, Nigeria's Joy Ogwu, and told Inner City Press that moves are afoot to reconsider the UN's sudden closing of its after school program. Then she was gone.

   Amid margaritas and ceviche, the talk was diplomatic. Why was there no action on the sinking of the South Korean ship? Why can UN Missions not share information on the Lord's Resistance Army? This last, admittedly, was a bee in the bonnet of Inner City Press.

But it was a matter that Claude Heller, the month's president, took more seriously than others, perhaps due to his role on Children and Armed Conflict. He and Mexico have six more months on the Council. Will the LRA be committing more or fewer massacres by the changing of the guard?

   Mexico's tireless spokesman Marco Morales greeted all and sundry. Reporters without exception praised his detailed updates replete with World Cup jokes. Soon to complete a PhD, he will return to Mexico.

  His Austrian counterpart Verena Nowotny, her country cursed by the alphabet to have only one Presidency, seemed to agree that the two should pass their knowledge to incoming spokespersons. Who will be the next five Council members? Germany, it was said, will be among them, and may not be open to advice from the Transient Ten.

  It was agreed: beyond the Permanent Five members of the Council, some countries feeling they are close or should have permanent status don't take the damn the torpedoes -- pardon the Cheonan reference -- approach of an Austria or Mexico, which know they only have two years and so try to raise their issues. Japan has long had this semi-permanent status. Now Germany approaches, and Brazil it moving that way.

  At Tuesday night's reception, the Permanent Representatives of four of the Permanent Five made an appearance. China's Li Baodong spoke with Rugunda of Uganda. Gerard Araud appeared, glad handing Heller. The UK's Lyall Grant spoke of his time in Pakistan.

Vitaly Churkin of Russia, Inner City Press was told, appeared and left early. “They're running from the spy case,” one margaritaed wag opined. The Russian Mission's spokesman Ruslan left suddenly mid month, between a wag and margarita, making Tolstoy invitations. He will be missed.

  The missing Permanent Five, as the wags say is so often the case, was Susan Rice of the US.

Heller and Marco Morales: dynamic duo with nearly everything shown

  In her stead was Alex Wolff, soon to leave the Mission. Inner City Press asked him, when will he shift over to become US Ambassador to Chile? As soon as the Senate confirms me. Also there was Brooke Anderson, right to the end of the reception. Unlike Wolff on the night of the flotilla -- again with Rice not there -- she has had to do a stakeout, taking questions on the record. That day must be approaching.

  Also strangely absent was the Office of the Spokesman. Ever since the Council moved to its new basement home, the Spokesman has been barred from attending consultations. It was said that he is trying; he has said he needs to hear from the Council on its reason. Tuesday night with guacamole was a chance to heal this rift.

Footnote: The Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe is saying farewell to New York, heading south to DC for a similar deputy post at the UN office there. Wednesday this transition will be marked from 4 to 6 pm. While to some readers of Tolstoy afternoon celebrations may be as good as any, this time it overlaps with Council meetings and a staged TV debate including the heads of UNESCO and of UNFPA. Insiders say the latter has tried to plant friendly questions. We'll see: 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.

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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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