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UN Stonewalls on Syria Mandate & Extremist Threats, DRC Jail Death & UNSC Stakeout Ban

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 21, updated -- On chemical weapons, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says his Swedish envoy Ake "Sellstrom is in discussions with the Syrian Government," Sellstrom's team's mandate is only to determine IF chemical weapons were used, not by whom.

  Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey on Wednesday about this problem, and to explain Sellstrom's statements to Swedish news agency TT -- does this supersede his office's note that "the team will not be speaking to the media"?

  Del Buey replied no, all questions should be through his office -- apparently unless you are Swedish media, or TT -- and that if the mandate changed, he'd tell Inner City Press. Video here and embedded below.

  But what to make of the emergency Security Council meeting set for 3 pm, if Sellstrom can't say who used weapons? Or would Sellstrom tell TT his opinions?

  Inner City Press asked Del Buey about the ISIS rebels telling humanitarian aid agencies to leave northern Syria. Del Buey said he hadn't heard of it. The Free UN Coalition for Access had already asked, but now Inner City Press has sent these questions to OCHA in Geneva as well:

1) Is OCHA aware of this? 2) Does OCHA, ideally Baroness Amos, have a comment on it?

3) Does OCHA have a plan, or taking some action?

Also, on Somalia, is there any plan to continuing running the health care facilities which MSF is leaving? Separately, any OCHA comment on MSF's now further explained reasons for leaving, including lack of support from the Somali government?

Like Del Buey said, when we have an answer we'll tell you. [See update below.]

  Inner City Press asked when ex-US now-UN envoy Jeffrey Feltman's trip to Egypt was put together. (Inner City Press previously showed, with audio, it was before the August 14 killing of protesters, though the UN by spoon-feeding the announcement to Reuters got a misleading report making it look responsive).

  Del Buey said when we have an answer, we'll tell you. But it's a simple question to answer. Maybe they'll tell another media?

  Inner City Press asked Del Buey about the death in Congolese custody of Tjostolv Moland, and the continued custody of Norwegian - British citizen Joshua French. Del Buey said the UN is aware but has no comment. Why not?

  After UN special rapporteur Quintana was attacked by Buddhist extremists in Myanmar and said the government did not offer protection, Inner City Press asked Del Buey what the UN thought. He said he would asked envoy Vijay Nambiar. We'll see.

  Finally, in advance of the 3 pm emergency Security Council meeting on Syria, Inner City Press asked what FUNCA had the day before: why are journalists being banned from the part of the Council stakeout between the entrance steps and the so-called Turkish Lounge?

  Was this an ad hoc Department of Public Information restriction or a new policy, perhaps agreed to with their partner, as their anti-free speech, no sign but UNCA policy was?

  Del Buey said he would check, or try. Frankly, DPI should have answered FUNCA yesterday. Watch this site.

Update: OCHA's Amanda Pitt has replied:

"I don't have any information on the questions re northern Syria. In any case UNDSS would be the UN department to comment on security issues.

"Re. Somalia, I think the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini, said that  Médecins Sans Frontierès have helped provide medical assistance to the Somali people under extremely difficult conditions for many years and their withdrawal is a reminder that Somalia remains one of the most difficult and dangerous environments in the world for aid workers.

"He also said that, "While MSF’s contribution will be missed, it is one of many entities that were providing medical and related assistance," and pointed out that MSF is working with humanitarians present in Somalia to minimize the impact of their withdrawal.  However, I would definitely suggest you contact the RC/HC's office there as they may well have more recent comment from him on the situation."

We'll have more on this. But how can OCHA have no comment on aid workers being thrown out by ISIS, and refer the question to UN-DSS which never comments? Watch this site.


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