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In MINURSO's Wake, Doubts About Van Walsum, Ripert on the Run

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 -- At 11 p.m. around the microphone outside the Security Council's meeting on Western Sahara, the scene was pure UN: a gaggle of diplomats before a handful of journalists, with hawk-eyed UN staffers standing on the side. Outgoing Council president Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa called it a dark day for human rights, with France, the UK and United States opposing any presence of the term in the MINURSO resolution, when he said he would be fast to apply it to Sudan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and "even South Africa." Inner City Press asked Kumalo why then he hadn't called a vote on the Costa Rican amendment that would have added human rights to the resolution. Kumalo answered, that would have sent a message that the Council is divided. But perhaps it is.

            Inner City Press asked the Frente Polisario representative if UN envoy Peter van Walsum should continue in his post. Maybe he has undermined his role, and "the basic principle of neutrality and impartiality," was the answer. To the side, van Walsum's staffer for the Department of Political Affairs stood taking notes. When a reporter asked her for comment, she turned away. That too is undermining, given that van Walsum rarely if ever takes questions about his work. Inner City Press asked the Polisario representative to compare his situation to that of Kosovo. "I don't want to go in that direction," he said. No one does, these days.

Security Council in December 2005: where's Algeria's Baali?

            U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, in a low and hoarse voice, explained of the resolution, "This is as far as we could go." In response to Inner City Press' question if the negotiations had excluded non-permanent members of the Council, as Kumalo had alleged, Wolff said that all had been consulted. But several non-permanent member staffers said, two days before the scheduled vote, they had not been shown the text. Others pointed out that while the Council presidency may have been excluded, former Algerian ambassador Abdallah Baali was around all week, perhaps with unexplained access. As said up top, it's pure UN. What's the point, one non-permanent representative asked rhetorically, of running for a seat on the Council? In the open meeting, Costa Rica expressed this same doubt, which Kumalo called courageous.

            On the other hand, French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert ran past the stakeout without speaking. "Les droits de l'homme," the press called after him. But he was gone.

Footnote: Kumalo told the press he is leaving Thursday for "hiking in Nevada." Later one wag joked, "The Matterhorn casino, no doubt." He is the funniest of the members of the Council, even if the "I'd didn't do it" protest needs to be updated. One day, speeches on the Council may be matched by action. But today was not the day.

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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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