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UN Dodges on Search and Safety, 278 National Staff Unaccounted For, Blames Media

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 19 -- As UN officials in Haiti lash out at the media for reporting on looting, they are unable or unwilling to answer Press questions about the safety of their building, rescue efforts made or a helicopter "crash" that they themselves reported.

  Top UN Peacekeeper Alain Leroy on Tuesday morning told Inner City Press he had heard the same reports of a helicopter crash in Haiti, but to ask his deputy Edmond Mulet, who was appear at noon by video link for Haiti.

   When he did, Mulet said "I've heard about this crash" but that "the UN and MINUSTAH have nothing to do with it." But the UN says it is playing the central coordinating role.

  Inner City Press asked for an update on MINUSTAH's inquiry into the safety of its 1200 national Haitian staff, on whom at first it did not report. Mulet responded that 278 are still unaccounted for, adding that perhaps some are "dealing with their own grievances." Video here, from Minute 21:26.

Speaking of grieving, Inner City Press asked what had been done to try to find and save staffer Alexandra Duguay, an energetic Canadian who until recently worked at UN headquarters, as well as running marathons.

  During Sunday's whirlwind tour of Port au Prince by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and some hand selected media, complaints were made that not enough was done to find Ms. Duguay.

Since then, the National Post quoted her parents that she had been found, dead. Still, MINUSTAH spokesman David Wimhurst replied that he had no information, "I don't have" ID's, while mentioning another building that collapsed with ten people inside. Video here, from Minute 32:20.

  On Monday evening, Inner City Press directed to Mr. Wimhurst a question about the helicopter crash on which UN sources were reporting, without any further information being given.

  Rather, the UN's communications strategy appears to be to attack media which reports on looting or rioting in Haiti.

Ruins of UN's rented Hotel Christopher, with copter in background
  Mr. Mulet calls such reports "irresponsible" -- he also called looting "normal" -- while Mr. Wimhurst, pointing out that he attended Columbia School of Journalism and was "well trained," chided media for "looking for conflict," for trying to blame the UN for things.

  One wonders what Mr. Wimhurst, and others in the UN, thought of the media's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and responses in New Orleans. It is known that the Secretariat and Spokesman have reacted angrily to this comparison.

  Mulet said he wasn't aware if the UN's headquarters in the Christopher Hotel, for which it paid out $94,000 a month, had been brought into MOSS compliance. Mulet said all the records were destroyed. It seems strange that records on a contract and lease of this size were stored in the building itself. Mulet said this would be followed up on. We will be following up.

* * *

At UN on Haiti, Ban Dodges on Immigration, Armenians Rebuffed, No Copter Update

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 19 -- As the UN Security Council voted to authorize 3500 more peacekeepers for Haiti, including 1500 more police, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on member states to step forward with offers of troops.

  Inner City Press asked about the Dominican Republic's offer of a battalion, said to number 800, and whether Ban and the UN think that countries should be less stringent with their immigration restrictions after the Haitian earthquake.

  Mr. Ban replied by praising the Dominican Republic for its troop offer -- which some see as simply blue helmeting a border guarding force -- and for its help with the humanitarian effort. He is aware, he said, of the Dominican Republic's attempt to accommodate Haitians within the Republic's "rules and regulations."

  Inner City Press asked Ban about reports that the UN had run out of fuel for its trucks to deliver aid. Top humanitarian John Holmes passed a note to Ban Ki-moon, who read out that last night 10,000 gallons of fuels had arrived.

  When Holmes himself took to the custom made podium brought out for Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked him about a reported complaint by Armenia's Mission to the UN, that they had offered a rescue team last Thursday but were never told of any UN acceptance or decision.

  Holmes replied that he was unaware, but that there are always issues of matching needs with offers. But from member states?

   Inner City Press, which reported exclusively Monday evening about what UN sources said was a helicopter crash in Haiti, asked chief Peacekeeper Alain Leroy for an update. I've seen those reports, he said, but I have no new information this morning. He said to ask Edmond Mulet, who will be appearing later on Tuesday by video link from Haiti.

UN's Ban and former spokeswoman, answers on immigration not shown

  The Ambassador of China Zhang Yesui, this month's Security Council president, came out at announced the Council's vote. While usually he leaves the stakeout without taking any questions -- on Monday he walked away as Inner City Press asked about the attacks in Afghanistan -- this time he called on Xinhua, and offered a long answer on camera, in Chinese. It concerned the UN's role in responding to Haiti.

  Asked if China would offer any more troops -- its 125 member contingent is, as Inner City Press has reported, a "riot squad" that when rotated has flown back to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region -- Zhang Yesui said it would be taken under advisement.

  The last speaker at the stakeout was U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, who came prepared with an answer to Inner City Press' question of Monday, whether the $100 million of aid announced by President Barack Obama would be part of the UN's flash appeal.

  No, Ambassador Wolff said, the $100 million is "bilateral." But he said that the US will be contributing generously to the UN's flash appeal, in the coming days. We'll see.

Footnote: because the UN and even Security Council has become all Haiti, all the time for now, Inner City Press asked the U.S.'s Alejandro Wolff about reports of bombing in Darfur, requests to protect civilians, and Chad's statement it does not want the mandate of the Darfur related MINURCAT peacekeeping mission renewed. Wolff said the U.S. is concerned and is seeking more information. Inner City Press has asked the UN too, and hopes to be able to write more on this topic shortly. Watch this site.

From the UN's January 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: Mr. Secretary-General, the Dominican Republic has offered a battalion – it has been said publicly – they’ve also said that they are very concerned about immigration and people crossing the border. Does the UN have anything to say whether countries should loosen their immigration restrictions on Haitians, or otherwise, after this crisis? And also, does the UN still have gas to run its trucks? There was a report in USA Today that the UN was running out of gas for its food distribution trucks.

SG Ban Ki-moon: From the beginning of this crisis, the Dominican Republic Government has been providing very generously and swiftly all possible assistance to their neighbouring country, Haiti, and we are very much grateful to them. I am also aware of the Dominican Republic’s intention to dispatch troops there - that is also welcome. For the immigration issues, I am also aware that the Dominican Republic Government is trying to accommodate as many as possible, those people within the existing rules and regulations of their country, but they have been very generous. Of course, this fuel is quite limited in Haiti. Ten thousand gallons of fuel, I think, arrived last night from the Dominican Republic. That will help more, as we continue our operations.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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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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