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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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In Afghanistan, UN Discourages Blackwater and Proselytizing, Had "No Role" in Hostages' Release

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 21 -- In Afghanistan the UN discourages proselytizing, while working with the parliament to pass a law requiring "international security companies" like Blackwater USA to register with the government, Tom Koenigs, Special Representative for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Inner City Press on Friday. In light of Iraq's apparently-stalled effort to oust Blackwater for shooting civilians, Inner City Press asked about the company's reported presence in Afghanistan, and for any UN policy or guidance on the issue.

            "As UNAMA [the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], we are protected by police, but this has an in-built problem," Koenigs said. Once these police are trained, they are not satisfied with policemen's salaries, and want to work for "one of the international companies." Of Blackwater, Koenigs said he wasn't sure they are in Afghanistan -- they are, including providing training to police -- but he added that "they certainly don't work for us."  Video here, from Minute 57:32.

            Speaking of a "big group of U.S. and South Korean citizens" who traveled to Afghanistan in 2006 for "a peace march, they said," Koenig noted that UNAMA successfully "persuaded them to leave" Afghanistan based on "concrete threats." He added that proselytizers create a "peril for the whole international community."

            In response to Inner City Press' request that he describe the UN's role in the release of the South Korean hostages last month, Koenigs said "we were in constant contact with the Korean embassy in case there would have been a necessity for us to get involved. This hasn't happened, and this make me happy." Koenigs credited the Red Cross, saying that "we have not had a role in the release of the hostages."

Tom Koenigs at the UN

            On August 28, asked by a South Korean television station about the release of the hostages, Ban Ki-moon said:

"I have to take this opportunity to comment the efforts of the Republic of Korea, the Government of Afghanistan, our United Nations office in Afghanistan, UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], and all other related parties who have contributed to the release of these hostages... as Secretary-General, I've exerted all the possible efforts even though I've not been able to explain publicly for the purpose of security and for facilitating smooth dialogue to release these hostages, I've spoken with the President of Afghanistan and many other leaders around the region who could have influenced and mobilized necessary influence."

            Just whom Mr. Koenigs meant as the "we" that played no role in the hostages release should be made clear.

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  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540