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As Chad Says UN Destroys Airstrips, Logjam on Shakedown Street

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 17 -- In Chad, the "traffic" of the UN's peacekeeping mission is "destroying our infrastructure," Chad's Ambassador to the UN Ahmad Allam-mi told the Press on Wednesday. Inner City Press asked him about landing and other fees that Chad's Idriss Deby government had been charging international peacekeepers, and to respond to the idea that Deby's threat to throw the UN out is just a ploy to get more money. Video here, from Minute 28:41.

  Ambassador Ahmad Allam-mi replied that there are "taxes for services rendered by state companies." He called these a "royalty" and said that "there is an agreement that we signed."

  But the UN, like the European Union force before it, has never wanted to disclose how much it agreed to pay Deby. Even at Wednesday's UN noon briefing, when Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, she did not provide an answer, or even promise one in the future. Video here.

After the noon briefing, when the Security Council suspended their meeting on Chad for a lunch break, Inner City Press asked top UN Peacekeeper Alain Le Roy about the alleged "destruction" of Chad's infrastructure, and whether the UN might now agree to pay more in order to keep the MINURCAT mission in place.

  "We are not there yet," Le Roy said. But are "we" getting there?

  In December 2008, Inner City Press exclusively covered a closed door meeting of Troop Contributing Countries at which European countries with notable exception of France, Chad's former colonial power, complained about high landing fees charged by Deby. Click here for that Inner City Press story.

As the mission was handed over from the European Union to the UN, it was said, Deby tried to charge the UN for infrastructure built by the EU. Now, informed sources say, Deby is at it again.

UN's Ban and Deby, payments for MINURCAT not shown

  Humanitarian groups are demanding that MINURCAT stay in place to protect their operations and civilians. As top UN Humanitarian John Holmes told the Press on Wednesday, while some NGOs won't accept escorts from armed peacekeepers, others do.

  Inner City Press asked Holmes if it would be possible to keep the mission in the Central African Republic, which it also serves, even if Chad kicks it out. No, Holmes answered. It would have to be a separate mission. He said he thinks the Central African Republic wants to keep the UN Mission.

  Ironically, if Deby's gambit results in higher payments from the UN, the Central African Republic and other hosts of peacekeeping missions would be foolish not to also try the shakedown. Watch this site.

Footnotes: in mid 2008 when Inner City Press and other UN correspondents accompanied the Security Council to Chad and elsewhere in Africa, Deby skipped a scheduled meeting with the Council. Many questioned why Deby would rebuff France, whose then Ambassador Jean Maurice Ripert was in charge of the Chad leg of the trip. Sources tell Inner City Press that Deby was four sheets to the wind, en flight back from Libya.

  After Wednesday's briefing, Ambassador Ahmad Allam-mi told Inner City Press, you try to get me in trouble by quoting my president to me. But President Deby, it appears, contains multitudes.

 Chad's press conference was stopped for two minutes as the headphones for translation did not work. Video here, from Minute 25:53.  Echoes of French Ambassador Gerard Araud's melt down at the beginning of February when the translation headsets weren't available. He demanded to konw, where are the helmets? Now some question, as Chad shakes down the UN as it did the EU, where is France?

At UN, CPJ on Pariah States N. Korea and on Sri Lanka, Buying Tickets, Iran's Eye

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 16 called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to be more forceful about the importance of press freedom. Inner City Press asked CPJ's Asia expert Bob Dietz about what Mr. Ban and CPJ have done as the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has closed down opposition newspapers, reporters have been killed and websites blocked. Video here, from Minute 40:08.

  Dietz said that "no one knows how to handle the direction in which the [Sri Lankan] government is going, which is not friendly to the media." He said it might join the "pariah states" of Myanmar, "Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe," but for feisty journalists who put themselves at risk.

  But as to what CPJ does, Dietz said "right now we are hanging back with a lot of people," trying to figure out whether to "come down hard or engage in quiet advocacy."

  Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Dietz for more specifics about this "quiet" approach, which the UN seems to share, in the most benign interpretation of Ban's visit in May 2009 after what even the UN called the "bloodbath on the beach" and since.

  Even the UN's Children and Armed Conflict mandate, which belatedly sent Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka in December, never had him brief the Press afterwards. Radhika Coomaraswamy, when Inner City Press asked her about this silence last week, said that Cammaert went to Europe to get married after his trip, then it was "too late" to brief the press about his visit.

  Dietz said that the opposition press in Sri Lanka asks that particular journalists' cases "not be publicized," as it would only make things worse. "Just get us out of here," Dietz said such journalists ask, adding the CPJ helps with plane tickets.

Another correspondent remarked afterwards is that "quiet advocacy is what diplomats do, not journalists or their organizations."

Masked rally for press freedom in Sri Lanka, Jan 2009, UN and CPJ's tickets out not shown

  Inner City Press asked CPJ's deputy director Robert Mahoney about the UN's own envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah having called on a "moratorium" on Somali journalists reporting on the killing of civilians by the African Union peacekeepers of AMISOM.

  Mahoney said it is up to journalists to make their own editorial decisions. Ironically, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky has, at least in his first month on the job, said such things as "that's not a story."

   Also on the podium was Newsweek journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, about whom CNN's Fareed Zakaria devoted the foreword to CPJ's study. As Bahari spoke, a representative from Iran's Mission to the UN sat in the UN press hall's front row, taking notes.

  The Iranian mission has invited UN correspondents -- including this one -- to a celebration of Iran's national day on February 18. Inner City Press told Bahari about the event, encouraging him to come and cover it. Watch this space.

Footnote: three hours after the CPJ press conference on its report, "Attacks on the Press in 2009," which names North Korea as the world's most censored country, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo and political advisor Lynn Pascoe if they had even raised press freedom during their recent trip to Pyongyang. Video here.

  No, Mr. Pascoe said. Inner City Press asked Mr. Kim to respond for Mr. Ban on CPJ's wider call to be more forceful on press freedom. While he answered about UNDP in North Korea, he did not answer on press freedom. Inner City Press has at UN noon briefings asked for Mr. Kim to come and answer questions more often. We'll see.

  In another UN footnote, CPJ's genial Mr. Dietz granted an interview to a student reporter, Melissa Best, whose piece should air as part of WNYC's Radio Rookies program. Ms. Best, who aspired to be a US diplomat, told Inner City Press that North Korea's nuclear ambitions might call for more stick and less carrots. The show should air -- and Internet -- in June...

 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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