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UN Dodges Questions of Sri Lanka Pull-Out and Kosovo Cover-Up, UNDP Fees

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 14 -- It was another week of questions dodged at the UN, from the reported destruction of documents at the UN-administered Kosovo Trust Agency to the UN's pull-out from Tamil Tiger controlled areas of Sri Lanka. Why can't the UN give a simple answer, or any answer, to simple factual questions? For a week Inner City Press asked UN spokespeople, from Ban's Spokesperson to the beleaguered representative of UN Peacekeeping to respond to reports that evidence from the privatizations of state-owned businesses by the Kosovo Trust Agency while the UN ran it were destroyed. At week's end, Ban's Spokespeson said, I see you've asked that of DPKO, "I've seen the exchange of emails."  Yes, but where is the answer?

  Typical of the UN was the response on September 12 to Inner City Press' request for a confirmation or denial that the UN was pulling its humanitarian operations out of areas of Sri Lanka as demanded by the government there. Rather than admit that the pull-out had begun, the Spokesperson pulled out a statement by the UN that it "remains fully committed to addressing the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the affected areas of Sri Lanka." That's the spin -- it's another question how the UN can serve an area it is pulling out of -- but the UN jumped right over the step it seems to hate most: stating the facts. Click here for a September 12 IHT piece about child soldiers in Sri Lanka, and in Myanmar...

Presser on Sri Lankan children, at podium from which answers are often not shown

  Inner City Press has asked the UN Development Program how much it collected in fees for paying the former chief legal officer of its Mission in Kosovo, Alexander Borg-Olivier, with European Union funds to serve as a consultant to Kosovo's government, and how much it collects in fees for various projects it administered for UN Peacebuilding, all without an answer. Rather, the UNDP Executive Board's meeting went into overtime on September 12, as amendments were proposed to make it even less likely that funders, much less the public, will be ever to see audits of how money is spent by UNDP. Click here for that story.

  From the September 12 transcript:

Spokesperson: Yes, Matthew, quickly, please.

Inner City Press: Yes, definitely.  There are continuing reports that the Kosovo Trust Agency run by UNMIK destroyed documents before turning over the remainder to the Kosovo Government.  I know I have asked it a couple of times, the answer has come back--

Spokesperson:  No, you addressed that question, if I understand, to DPKO and DPKO was supposed to give you an answer, if I understand correctly.  I've seen the exchange of e-mails.

Inner City Press: Exactly, because I had asked here.  Can you guarantee that the UN will either confirm it destroyed documents or not?

Spokesperson:  Can I guarantee?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson: I'll ask.  I'll ask, yes.

Question:  Okay.  The other on is on Sri Lanka.  Has the UN agreed to pull its humanitarian operations out of rebel or rebel-controlled areas in total?

Spokesperson:  As far I know, what I got from the Mission over there, they said that it is a sad fact that the actions of all parties to all conflicts, globally, result in increased suffering, displacement, wounding and deaths of civilians.  Meanwhile, the United Nations remains fully committed to addressing the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the affected areas of Sri Lanka with the Government of Sri Lanka, and will continuously monitor the situation to assess how this can be done under the circumstances.  I cannot answer specifically on the area you mentioned; that we can certainly follow through for you.  But this is what I got from Sri Lanka about the situation on the humanitarian front.

Inner City Press: A lot of people, in terms of UNCA members, had asked, maybe we can set up something separately between UNCA and your office to talk about the question issue; to not do it in the briefing.  But I think there were some concerns raised about, that it wasn’t just the number of questioners.  I guess I’m just saying may be if you’re open to it, I think there’re enough concerns among members...

Spokesperson:  Of course, I'm always open to it.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  There were concerns, but there are cases when a journalist seems to think that his media is more important than another media.  And I think that yesterday I got some very unpleasant conversations on that issue.  It’s not because someone is from a big Western media organization that necessarily that person will have the first shot at questions.

Inner City Press: I understand you're in a tough spot.  I’m just saying that maybe there is a way we can find --

Spokesperson:  Well, the problem is that we never have enough time for the number of questions.  If I knew in advance that so many people were going to ask about Lebanon, then I would pick three people to ask about Lebanon; three people to talk about Sri Lanka; otherwise, what happened yesterday, you probably were aware of it -- some people asked the same question in three different cases.  I didn’t know what they were going to ask about. So that issue is also important.  If I know what the issue is, it is going to be decided on issues.  If I have five people on Lebanon, I’m going to pick two; not three, not five, because I have other issues involved.  I’m sorry I have to really go because I think that the event coming up is important.

Watch this site, and this (UN) debate.

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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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