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In Nepal, UN "Regrets Altercation" With Media, Seizes Film of Crash Site, Won't Name Contractor

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 7 -- Four days after a helicopter serving the UN Mission in Nepal went down, killing all of those aboard, the UN in New York was unable or unwilling to even state what company the helicopter came from. Inner City Press has adduced that it is from the Russian firm Vertical T. A local report says that photographs of the crash site were confiscated: "asking the news crew not to shoot images of the crash site, UNMIN staff also took tapes of the crash site already shot by the media persons into their possession."

            At Friday's noon briefing at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked again for confirmation of the name of the contractor, and for a response to the reports of crack-down on journalists. While still refusing any procurement information, the UN spokesperson told Inner City Press by e-mail that "we regret that there was an altercation between members of the UNMIN team and media at the site of the helicopter crash, when members of the UNMIN team were attempting to recover the bodies of colleagues and to cover them before filming."

            While the UN's use of this rationale always sounds lofty, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists and the International Press Institute's Nepal chapter both denounced the UN's "manhandling and misbehavior" and the confiscation of the tape of cameraman Bhola Thapa of Nepal TV.

            A Russian-language report says the cause may have been a rocket-propelled grenade. Still the UN not said who will investigate the crash. The Nepali Minister of Civil Aviation, on whose web site it is reported that there was at least one previous UNMIN helicopter incident that went uninvestigated, generally makes public copies of its crash reports. Will that happen in this case? The secrecy to date, while par for the UN course, is inappropriate in this case.

After earlier footage seized, photo of crash site with UNMIN personnel

            Vertical T, sometimes spelled Vertikal T, which has amassed some 127 million in UN contracts, click here for some. Involved in this contracting has been the head of the UN's Field Procurement Section, Dmitry Dovgopoly, who is also central to the UN's award of no-bid contracts to military contractor Lockheed Martin.  During the General Assembly's questioning of the $250 million non-competitive contract to Lockheed for Darfur peacekeeping camps, Inner City Press is told by sources that Procurement official Dmitry Dovgopoly had Ukraine's ambassador reach out to other countries' Permanent Representatives, urging them to cool off on inquiries into the Lockheed deal, given Dovgolopy's involvement.

 Earlier this week, Inner City Press asked Dovgopoly to comment on another procurement irregularity in which he is involved, the changing of the final Request for Proposals for the follow-on Darfur infrastructure contract after a request from the French mission to the UN. Dovgopoly did not respond. And the UN spokesperson's office, even four  days after the crash in Nepal, could or would not provide the name of the helicopter owner.

            A Vertical T helicopter was previously shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan, click here for that. Why would the UN have an interest in downplaying possible hostile fire at one of its helicopters in Nepal? Perhaps, one observer said, the UN can be too committed to a peace process -- or, as now explained, too committed to its version of acceptable journalism -- to the point of confiscating evidence or worse.

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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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