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At the UN, Belarus Blames Victims of Trafficking, OAS Head for Extraditing Posada Carriles

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 5 --  That the UN Conference on Trafficking in Women and Girls was sponsored by Belarus was found ironic by some. Other were more angry, and tried to invoke the U.S. and European Union travel ban on Vladimir Naumov, Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Belarus, to prevent him from coming to New York for the conference. Inner City Press on Monday asked Mr. Naumov about this, and he responded by thanking the UN system for its cooperation with Belarus. Video here, from Minute 16:09.

            The content of Belarus' press conference was also controversial. Speaker Natalya Petkevich, Deputy Head of Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus, blamed many women's "negligence" for the problem, and urged the "mass media" to be "objective" to "make sure they know such negligence."  Video here, from Minute 21:36. Ms. Petkevich referred to girls trying to make their way by "dancing and singing," and falling into trafficking. Still, negligence seems to many like blaming the victims.

Natalya Petkevich, on the lookout for negligence; Vladimir Naumov, on the lookout, period.

            Two new Under Secretaries General briefed the media on Monday. OCHA's John Holmes focused, as forgotten disasters, on Somalia, Northern Uganda and Iraq (for which he said OCHA is opening an office in Amman, Jordan). Inner City Press asked for his views on the interplay of humanitarian and political impulses, following up on Eric Laroche's briefing on Somalia last week, and on previous comments by Mr. Holmes. This time Mr. Holmes was cautious, saying that his predecessor Jan Egeland met with the Lord's Resistance Army "not as a political mediator as such." Still, Mr. Holmes urged that lines between humanitarian and political impulses be kept clear. Click here for a story on his answers about UNDP and North Korea.

            Alicia Barcena also appeared, leaving less than 15 minutes for questions. Inner City Press asked about the Pension Fund and OIOS, click here for that story. In response to another question, Ms. Barcena referred to a staff member "suspending, on paid leave." This was interpreted to mean staffer Andrew Toh, and Singapore's mission, which has supported Mr. Toh, was reporting hopping mad.

            In other surreal UN action on Monday, the deputy Ambassador of Georgia Irakli Chikovani conducted a record-shortest press conference -- six minutes -- to denounce the weekend's elections in Abkhazia as illegal. Click here for video, including Inner City Press' three question (in six minute, also a record).

            By late afternoon, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, took questions from four reporters in the half-light outside the Security Council. Inner City Press asked about Haiti -- Mr. Insulza blamed China for the eight rather than 12 month mandate -- and about Venezuela refusing to sign on to the OAS anti-terrorism convention. This is reportedly in protest of the U.S.'s failure to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, who bombed a Cuban jetliner in 1976.  Surprisingly, Ms. Insulza said "I have been in favor of the extradition of Posada Carriles." But he disagreed that it was any reason to abstain from a terrorism convention.

            On the stories from the UN's nether-regions, there was feedback on Friday's round-up on Monday from the spokesman for the Capital Master Plan. He confirmed that eels and fish, and even once a police diver, who was able to escape, accumulate on the screens of the intake machines in the UN's third sub-basement. As to the existence of a subway station under the UN, he confirmed the ability to descend to the tracks directly from the UN, but denied it was a station. Inner City Press has asked him for a tour. We'll see.

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From the UN to JFK, It's Kim Jong Eel and Labor Relations Snafus

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Most of the stories written from the UN are read by very few here. This week's tale of rats and eels in the UN was different. It appeared on Page Six of the New York Post, and was talked about not only in the briefing room and at Wednesday evening's reception at the Slovakian Ambassador's 67th Street townhouse, but also by security guards in UNICEF, and cleaning staff in the Secretariat's garage.

   Guards said that yes, there are eels, and that in the past some ate them. The spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who was known in Korea as the Slippery Eel, made light of the story and implied there are no eels, only rodents.

            And so Inner City Press, on its own turf on this story, went in search of the eels. This quest, as so many here, led to the third sub-basement. There one finds machines that screen and filter the water that comes in from the East River. Inner City Press is told that eels, or fish of any kind, would only be visible when they stop the machine and open them to clean out the screens. Whether the New York Post actually saw the eels before running its piece is not known. Some years ago, U.S. Navy SEALS explored the UN - East River interplay for potential security issues.

            Another urban legend was plumbed: whether there is or was a subway station under the UN, a stop between Grand Central and Long Island City on the 7 train. The answer appears to be yes. There is a tunnel, metal fencing, security cameras. Wonders never cease.

North Korea: keep on walking

            Friday evening as most UN staff poured out of the building, Peacekeeping head Jean-Marie Guehenno was coming in. To Inner City Press he explained, "Night shift." He said he was coming back from Washington, would soon be leaving for Pakistan. Inner City Press asked about the comment earlier on Friday from Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa, that even a civilian force in Chad would need security.

   "That's true," Mr. Guehenno said. Speaking of protection, Mr. Guehenno is known to be lobbying to get additional spokespersons' posts in his Department. There are, he says, three functions: speaking for the Department, providing back-up to the missions in the field, and creating an overall communications strategy. It sounds like UNDP...

            Meanwhile a portion of the UN press corps has been in a frenzy tracking the foreign minister of the Kim Jong Il government of North Korea, from San Francisco to New York, where he's slated to meet with Christopher Hill at the U.S. Mission. In San Francisco, Japan's NHK television is said to have rented five motorcycles to try to find Minister Kim.  In New York, reporters flocked out to the airport, awaiting a certain (or uncertain) United Airlines flight, and then camped out in front of the Millennium Plaza hotel, in the same structure at UNDP, and awaited him. They got a wave, and not much more.

            Back in the UN, the day ended as it so often Friday does in the Delegates' Lounge. This time a high-ranking UN official twice graced the scene -- hint: one who will hold a press conference on Monday, which narrows it down to two -- and first conveyed the 38th floor's anger at the Staff Union's letter to the editor of the New York Times. This letter looks critically both at Mr. Ban's reforms to date, calling them cosmetic, and at the Times' Feb. 28 article making much of these reforms. The letter focuses on three "fundamental reforms" it calls necessary: staff selection, the culture of fear and the "unfair system of justice at the United Nations."

            An example of the first of these was within spitting and drinking distance of the UN high official Friday night. The culture of fear, so often described on this site, was attempted to be spread to the Press this week by the Pension Fund's complaint to UN Security about Inner City Press' attempt to observe and ask questions outside the February 15 Audit Committee meeting. On Friday, a UN spokesperson said not to worry about this complaint, that the OSSG is angry about it too, and that no written statement is necessary. The system of justice at the UN is called into question by the same UN Pension Fund's lack of action on a March 2006 OIOS report, and failure to be fair to many of its employees.

            Still the week and evening came to a pleasant close in the Delegates' Lounge, with its door into the ECOSOC Chamber, its six-dollar screwdrivers and bowls of free potato chips, its views of the East River reflecting an empty insane asylum, in the middle of the river or here on its west bank, it is not quite certain...

At the UN, Chad and Darfur Fall Into Footnotes, Sudanese Praise of French But Not UN Soldiers

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- While some predict Security Council resolution in March on sending UN peacekeepers to Chad, the Council's president for February, Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, on Feb. 28 told Inner City Press that it is unlikely that "anything can happen in Chad until summertime." The obstacles include Chadian president Deby's now-stated opposition to peacekeepers (he would prefer a "civilian" presence).

            On March 2, the incoming president of the Security Council, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said that Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic only in the footnotes of this month's Council agenda, that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has said that even a civilian force would need protection, and that discussions continue. Video here. Inner City Press also asked when to expect UN envoy Joaquim Chissano to brief the Council about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Outgoing Council president Burian raised to the issue to Amb. Kumalo during their bilateral meeting of transition.

            A less studied response to Inner City Press' questions, on March 1, Sudan's Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press that he, too, doubts that Chad will let in the force the UN would like to send. "We are the same people," he said, saying that one of Deby's sons is named Omar, after Sudan's president Omar al Bashir.

   Inner City Press asked for his explanation of last year's abortive march by rebels on Chad's capital, ostensibly stopped by France dropping of a bomb next to the rebel column. "France showed too much force," Sudan's Ambassador said, adding that his government has fewer doubts about French troops than UN blue helmets, against whom the Ambassador raised issues of sexual and other abuse.

Mr. Ban at the Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery event

            It was at an event on slavery -- the opening of the "Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery" exhibit -- in the UN visitors' entrance on Thursday night that the Sudanese Ambassador made his remarks to Inner City Press. He began be remarking that the commemoration of slavery should be a national holiday in the United States. He continued:

"Chad, they don't like this force. They want a small civilian force here and there, just to make the world community happy they are doing something. Darfur and Chadians are the same people. Idriss Deby [Chad's President], his wife delivered in the medical hospital in Khartoum. His youngest son is named Omar, for Omar al Bashir. His second wife is Sudanese...

"Now the Security Council is considering this resolution. They say they have not money for Darfur, but they want to deploy to Chad and to Somalia. [CAR president] Bozize? There is a reconciliation there, the Libya mediation. There are many problems there and in Chad that have nothing to do with Darfur. Like in our case, it is better to advance the peace process."

            Inner City Press asked about France's dropping of a bomb in Chad to defend the Deby government last year. Who were the rebels? Why did they stop advancing? Had they been told to simply knock on Deby's door -- either related to oil and the World Bank's conditional loans, or to recognizing China and not Taiwan -- and then to back away?

      "The French response was too big, too massive... We prefer the French to the UN troops, the French do not engage in sexual exploitation like the UN peacekeepers do. In Sudan we don't consider the French as destabilizers."

            When Ban Ki-moon spoke at the Thursday event, he said that slavery continues to this day, including in the use of child soldiers. Canapes were passed around and Ambassadors chit-chatted. On the walls were pictures of slave traders, including Humphrey Morice (1679-1731), who besides owning eight slave ships, named for his wife and daughters, was also a governor of the Bank of England. Beside this picture, the Ambassadors of Sudan and the UK made small talk. Only at the UN...

            At deadline, in other inside-the-UN news, Inner City Press has learned that Warren Sach has been removed from the post of Ban Ki-moon's representative to the UN Pension Fund, replaced on March 1 by Alicia Barcena of the Department of Management. Perhaps this explains Mr. Sach's recent non-response to recent questions. [At 4 p.m., eight hours after questions, an auto-response arrived, that Mr. Sach is away from UN Headquarters from Feb. 28 -- the day of the Pension Fund press conference -- through March 12.] Ms. Barcena, on the other hand, will be taking questions from the Press on March 5. [Click here for that.]

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540