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In Ban's UN, Pomp and Secrecy on Congo, Asia and Quartet, Closed Meeting

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 10 -- With UN Peacekeepers under fire in the Congo, and tensions between Myanmar and Bangladesh, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited last month, the UN's member states got a briefing on Monday afternoon. The Press was told it could not enter the meeting. Inner City Press asked, why not? The spokesman for General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann said, "you know the rules, the countries decide among themselves if a meeting is open or closed." Video here, from Minute 39:45.

  But how and where did "the countries" decide to bar the press from this particular meeting, on topics of public concern such as the UN's approach to the war raging in the Congo? President d'Escoto wrote to member states on November 6, inviting them to the November 10 briefing. The letter did not mention that the meeting would be closed.

  D'Escoto's spokesperson, joined by Ban Ki-moon's, tried to claim there was no harm. Ban will brief the press on Tuesday, as will d'Escoto, on the so-called Culture of Peace event. What about the UN's reflexive Culture of Secrecy? Who will disclose what questions were asked of Ban by the member states, particularly those not on the Security Council?  Inner City Press asked if a summary would be provided. D'Escoto's spokesman said that it would. We'll see.

UN's Ban and d'Escoto: a meeting of the minds on closed meetings?

  Stationed outside the Economic and Social Council chamber in the run-up to the meeting, Inner City Press asked South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo why the meeting was closed. "Is it closed?" he answered, with surprise. Rwanda's Ambassador strode in purposefully. The Administrator of the UN Development Program, Kemal Dervis, arrived with pomp and an entourage, its purpose much less clear.

  Ban Ki-moon arrived at 3:05 with a spokesman and his senior advisor Kim Won-soo. His chief of staff Vijay Nambiar arrived jogging five minutes later. Just after him, a security officer with a sniffing dog arrived. "The room is already filled," he was told, whereupon he walked away.

Update of 3:47 p.m. -- a Western diplomat leaving the meeting tells Inner City Press, "it's closed because it's sooo boring." An African diplomat specifies, they are at cross purposes, "Sudan is talking about Sudan." And the topic of Sudan was not even listed on the agenda...

Update of 3:57 p.m. -- with ten minutes to go, the sign outside the Eco-Soc Chamber was turned off. An Eastern European diplomat adds that Ban expressed excitement about the Nov. 15 meeting in Washington of the G-20, saying it was the first time that a UN Secretary General has been invited to such a meeting. Even if the invitation came late, as an afterthought...

Update of 4:06 p.m. -- meeting still ongoing, one departing Ambassador remarked, "I almost fell asleep, there's no air in there."

Update of 4:30 p.m. -- with the meeting room doors still closed, now the Press is told it cannot enter the Delegates' Lounge next door. "I'm sorry," a guard says, "I've just gotten a call that the press cannot go in."

Update of 4:32 p.m. -- there appears to be at least one exception to the "bar the press" rule, for whom a French functionary comes out to Security to vouch.  Who ordered these new rules?

Update of 4:45 p.m. -- barred from the Delegates' Lounge, Inner City Press made a few calls, no one wanted to say who had ordered the blockage. Finally at 4:41, Inner City Press was let inside -- just as the meeting ended. Has a precedent of exclusion been set?  An Eastern European Ambassador says Congo and Rwanda got into it. "Il a fait un betisse," the Congolese Ambassador says.

Update of 4:49 p.m. -- the Congolese Ambassador continues, you know that yesterday [Rwandan president] Kagame's chief of protocol got stopped...[The reference is to Rose Kabuye.]

Update of 5:09 p.m. -- following up on what was said earlier in the day at the UN's noon briefing, a request has been put in, for a quick summary of what was said, in particular what questions member states asked of Ban or of each other, and for who told UN Security not to let the Press into the Delegates' Lounge during the meeting. When response is made, the answers will appear on this site.

Update of 6:15 p.m. -- Mr. D'Escoto's spokesman has provided the following:

"it was a closed meeting, as it was written very clearly in today´s journal (and as I mentioned myself at today´s noon briefing). As you know the rules, closed meetings are open only to delegations. Nobody else can have access. 

  "The Secretary-General briefed today the member countries on his last trip (Nairobi meeting on Congo and Asia trip) and his upcoming trip to Washington. Several countries asked questions and made comments. This is the topic of tomorrow's press conference and you can ask about it tomorrow, both to the Secretary-General and to the President of the General Assembly." 

  While appreciated, the first part does not answer about the Delegates' Lounge, which it next to the meeting room. As to the second part, one hopes that Mr. Ban's press conference allows for these issues.  Mr. d'Escoto's press conference is ostensibly about the Culture of Peace -- though from the above, the Culture of Silence will also be on the agenda, and be addressed by Mr. d'Escoto. We'll see.

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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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