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In Ban's UN, Questions of Kim, Waiting on Migiro, Dodging LRA Juba Talks, Rodent Update

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 21 -- Two little-seen titans in the new UN had a presence on Wednesday, while little presence became smaller still. Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, walking through the hallway by the Security Council, was asked by Inner City Press when she will hold her long-promised press conference. Soon, she said. Sources say Ms. Migiro was angry at an article in the Malaysian press characterizing her as a lightweight, and vowed at that time to meet these charges head-on. The time is nigh.

            Meanwhile though not observed, for once mention was made in the UN's noon briefing of Ban Ki-moon's new deputy chief of staff, Kim Won-soo, whom the New York  Times of February 28 tactfully described as "a Korean associate regarded at the United Nations as Mr. Banís most influential adviser." Following up another correspondent's question ("who is this Mr. Kim?"), Inner City Press asked for clarification if he is an Assistant Secretary General and if so, why this was never announced. It's said that another of the so-called mobility posts was handed out in-house, at the D level, as chief of scheduling. We'll see.

            The small but now acknowledged presence which is being combated at the UN is that of rodents. The New York Post's Page Six reported on mice, rats and eels at the UN. Inner City Press has previously pursued the eel story, down to the UN's third sub-basement where the East River water sucked in to cool machines is screened, of debris, fish, and sometimes eels. Once a police diver, too, according to Capital Master Plan spokesman Werner Schmidt. The diver escaped unharmed. The same can no longer be said of the rodents, at least in Aramark's fourth floor restaurant.

            On the night of March 20, out of the ordinary extermination took place on the fourth floor until ten p.m., supervised by a cook whose workday begins at 7 in the morning. Talk about commitment. Now if only this attitude were more prevalent throughout the UN....

DSG Migiro and Mr. Chissano, UN envoy to... what?

            Concerning the Lord's Resistance Army-impacted northern part of Uganda, which returning Under Secretary General Jan Egeland called the world's most neglected crisis, Inner City Press on Monday asked when Joaquim Chissano, appointed special envoy to Northern Uganda about the LRA, would be briefing the Security Council. The spokesperson's office responded:

Subj: LRA peace talks 

From: Office of the Spokesperson

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/19/2007 12:56:50 AM Eastern Time

The UN has no direct involvement in the talks. Please contact the Mission of Sudan, as that country is hosting and organizing the peace talks, for any additional information on the alleged resumption of the talks.

            This seemed strange, including in light of Sudan's recent rebuffing of the UN-affiliated International Criminal Court, which has indicted LRA leaders include Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti. So before running the quote, Inner City Press asked again for clarification, during the UN's noon briefing on Wednesday, tying the question to the presence of Mr. Chissano on Ms. Migiro's daily schedule.

   Immediately afterwards, Inner City Press asked Ms. Migiro -- who ably answered Inner City Press' development question in her one stake-out interview to date -- how her meeting with Chissano had gone. "It was good," she said. "He met at a settled place, with all of them, government, local leaders, the Lord's Resistance Army." And in this description, right after meeting with Chissano, he sure sounds involved in talks. Perhaps the UN is focused on him not being in Juba? (The place, is it reported, was Ri-Kwangba.) Later Wednesday, the distinguishing continued:

Subj: Your questions at noon: Chissano 

From: Office of the Spokesperson

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/21/2007 3:44:01 PM Eastern Time

Matthew, To repeat, Special Envoy for LRA-affected Regions Joaquim Chissano is NOT involved in the Juba peace talks. The UN briefly held an observer status until the talks broke down.

            If that's how you want to play it... Some observers quip that when something is successful, the UN tends to claim to have been even more involved than it was, whereas when things fall apart, the UN denies ever having been involved. This is among the more benign forms of spinning; there are others. As to the Lord's Resistance Army, it is hoped that these questions can be addressed on Thursday, in Mr. Chissano's briefing of the Security Council and in the media availability that has been promised afterwards. We'll see.

   As a matter of transparency, does Mr. Ban agree? Developing.

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Question of Ban Ki-moon's Role in N. Korea Funding Unanswered for Two Weeks

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 -- During his eleven weeks as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly called for "the highest standards of ethics and integrity" and, relatedly, for transparency. Mr. Ban released a copy of his UN financial disclosure, as he had done in his previous position as South Korean foreign minister.

            But for two weeks, in response to requests to know how much money the South Korean government transferred to North Korea during the time he was Foreign Minister, no answers have been received. Rather his staff has argued, as recently as Tuesday, that this information is irrelevant and will not be provided. Beyond possible conflict of interest issues, some now wonder if this stonewalling might not be related to the place of aid-to-North-Korea issues in the current elections in South Korea. In either case, so much for transparency and openness to the press.

            Three weeks into his tenure, faced with a reported scandal in the North Korean operations of the UN Development Program, Mr. Ban called for an "urgent audit" of how UN agencies, funds and programs spend money in North Korea and elsewhere. Three days after this announcement, the scope of the audit was narrowed.

            Inner City Press asked for comment on North Korean spending and hiring from, among others, the UN World Health Organization, the UN World Food Program, UNICEF and the UN Population Fund. UNICEF acknowledged making payments in hard currency -- precisely the practice which UNDP's executive committee has now explicitly prohibited -- as did WFP. In response to a direct question of whether the World Health Organization received $10 million from South Korea while Ban Ki-moon was foreign minister, WHO spokeswoman Christine McNab wrote to Inner City Press that, "Yes, last year South Korea committed to providing the equivalent of US 10 million per year as support to DPRK through WHO for health-related humanitarian assistance, for three years."

            Following the journalistic mantra about following the money, on March 5 Inner City Press went to inquire into this with the UN's Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General, where a request was made that the question be submitted in writing.  It was:

Subj: Questions re North Korea, UNDP suspension, audit, South Korean aid to DPRK, thanks 

To: Spokesperson

From: Inner City Press

Date: 3/5/2007 10:14:30 AM Eastern Standard Time

  Good morning. This is a question that I came into the OSSG earlier this morning to ask, was advised to direct it to you by email:

--what role if any did Ban Ki-moon play while with the Republic of Korea government in South Korean aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea? If any, did any of this aid involve UN funds, programs or agencies? If any, could any of this aid be within the scope of the urgent audits Mr. Ban called for on Jan. 19, as modified Jan. 22?

Context: following UNDP's (quiet, online only) announcement that it suspended its operations in North Korea on March 1, Inner City Press has heard from sources information that gives rise to the above question, as well as to other questions posed directly to UNDP and to the Board of Auditors. (Including what impact the suspension of operations will have on the audit, on which we understand the 90 clock is already ticking). I'd wanted to just orally ask the above questions in your office, now do so by email. Please let me know as soon as there are responses.

            The spokesperson referred the question to Soung-ah Choi, who joined the UN along with Ban Ki-moon and is often seen accompanying him through the halls of Headquarters, or at his side when he takes questions from reporters, for example from Inner City Press about Darfur after the February Security Council luncheon.

            Ms. Choi did not answer the question, but rather directed Inner City Press to call an Ambassador Oh (Joon) at the South Korean mission to the UN. Inner City Press called Ambassador Oh's line, three times. The first time his secretary said he would call back shortly.  After Inner City Press left a voice mail with the question it wanted answered, another call was made, and then another.

            Ten days passed without any answer from Ambassador Oh. Inner City Press asked another South Korean mission staffer, who said that the appropriate Ambassador was not Mr. Oh, but rather an individual who would not be back to New York for some week.  Thereupon, Inner City Press asked the question at the UN noon briefing on March 9 (video here). From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Earlier this week, I tried to ask your office for a number of when Mr. Ban was the Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister for South Korea, how much aid came through that department, through the UN agencies, to North Korea, I was referred to the South Korean Mission and I have received no answer from them. So, I'm...

Spokesperson: That is a question that should be addressed to the South Korean Government.

Question: ...As a journalistic matter, it seems like if heís ordering the audit and some of the things that will be found in the audit, not to say that there's anything wrong with it, will be in fact, funding that he signed off on... it seems to me like a legitimate question. Or maybe your office can help get an answer.  What I was told from the South Korean Mission is that the Ambassador who works on that is now back in Korea and we donít know when heís coming back.

Spokesperson: Iím sure the South Korean Government has a spokesperson that you could probably address those questions to.

            Subsequently, Soung-ah Choi summoned Inner City Press into her office. She said that when Ban Ki-moon commented on Inner City Press' article, she had not told him that Inner City Press misidentified Ambassador Oh as involved in South Korea - North Korea relations, when she had referred to relations with international organizations. She objected to Inner City Press' use of the phrase "spin machine." She asked Inner City Press if a tape of the initial conversation in her office could be produced, "because I have one," she said, indicating a Windows Media file on her desktop computer. Mr. Ban: Setting an example?

   Inner City Press committed to Ms. Choi change the description of Ambassador Oh -- who had and has still not responded -- but asked how and by whom the question would be answered.

            Soung-ah Choi now referred Inner City Press to a person she called her "old boss" in public relations at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT), providing a telephone number in Seoul. 

            On March 19, Inner City Press called the number in Seoul and was told that the person referred to was in Beijing for the Six Party Talks. Inner City Press asked for the individual's e-mail address, to submit the question in writing, and was told yslee81 [at] (A South Korea mission staffer has since stated that this is Lee Yoen-su). Copying Ms. Choi and the Spokesperson, Inner City Press wrote:

Subj: Fwd: Questions re North Korea, UNDP suspension, audit, South Korean aid to DPRK, thanks  

To: yslee81 [at]

CC: UN Spokespersons

From:  Inner City Press

Date: 3/19/2007 5:04:22 AM Eastern Standard Time

Hello -- These are press questions from media at the United Nations in New York, referred to you by Soung-ah Choi of the Office of the Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon (OSSG).

--How much money was transferred from the Republic of Korea to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while Ban Ki-moon was Foreign Minister? How much of this was transferred through UN agencies, funds or programs? Which ones?

--What role if any did Ban Ki-moon play while with the Republic of Korea government in South Korean aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea? If any, did any of this aid involve UN funds, programs or agencies? If any, could any of this aid be within the scope of the urgent audits Mr. Ban called for on Jan. 19, as modified Jan. 22?

   I asked the second of these two sets of question two weeks ago to the OSSG (see below) and got referred to the Republic of Korea's mission to the UN, to Ambassador Oh (Joon), with whom I left three messages without reply now two weeks later.

  On Friday, Soung-ah, whom I am cc-ing, told me I should have called the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, and gave me your number. I called it Sunday-Monday and was told you are in Beijing, and was given this e-mail address (Soung-ah, please e-confirm that the address now sent to is the correct one, thanks).

  While I understand you are busy in Beijing, please confirm receipt of this e-mail and provide a response as quickly as possible (on deadline), by referring this to another appropriate person there if necessary.

            While sent before dawn on Monday in New York, there was no response until noon on Tuesday, when Soung-ah Choi sent an email during the UN's noon briefing, "mathew, please come see me."

            Immediately following the noon briefing -- at which Inner City Press asked about the UN and climate change, for Ban Ki-moon's position on the Human Rights Council's special rapporteurs, and whether the UN would be responding to the African Union's request for help in Somalia, video of briefing here -- Inner City Press went up to Soung-ah Choi's office, thinking that now at last the questions would be answered.

            Ms. Choi began by saying that Inner City Press' question were not clear, particularly the formulation "How much money was transferred from the Republic of Korea to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while Ban Ki-moon was Foreign Minister? How much of this was transferred through UN agencies, funds or programs? Which ones?"

            Referring to South Korea as "we," Ms. Choi said that are "at least twenty different kinds of money to be transferred to North Korea" and that "it has nothing to do with Ban Ki-moon."  She argued that "Ban Ki-moon did not do anything as Ban Ki-moon." She said that no one keeps track of money in the way Inner City Press has requested, and that "no one stays longer than a year," though Mr. Ban "stayed a very long time" as Foreign Minister.

            While stating that the English version of the South Korean Ministry of Unification "sucks" -- click here to verify -- Ms. Choi repeated asked if Inner City Press was using it, trying to self-answer the questions.

  Yes, but it is less than useful. Why don't you send me the link --

            But that means you have not used the site, Ms. Choi said triumphantly.  She again chided Inner City Press' question for not specifying which kind of aid was referred to. 

     All of it, then, broken down by type.

    "You want us to do your work for you. You can go beg the South Korean government if you want," Soung-ah Choi said, then laughed.

            Inner City Press stated that now that two weeks had passed, this process would be reported. On the way out, Inner City Press stopped to make the Spokesperson aware of the difficulties, and then set about composing this interim story. An argument raised is that Mr. Ban is now Secretary-General, and does not want any focus to be on what he did before assuming the post. But this is the nature of politics and of journalist, to have to address possible conflicts of interest due to past activities, holdings and posts.

            Sources since contacted by Inner City Press note that the critique of the Roh administration, under which Mr. Ban served, being advanced by the opposition GNP party includes that too much money was given to North Korea, for too little. They note that in the Kaesong Industrial Park, the same issues as in the "urgent audit" exist, of seconded employees chosen by the Kim Jong Il government, and payment in hard currency directly to that government. Without exception, they advise that the simple question of how much South Korean money was transferred to North Korea while Ban Ki-moon was foreign minister should be answered.

At the UN, Auditors Say They Can't Speak, IAEA Won't Say How It Pays in North Korea

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 14 -- The mystery around the delayed "urgent audit" that Ban Ki-moon ordered on January 19 continues to grow, fueled by the UN system's lack of transparency. On Tuesday, the spokesman for the UN Development Program, David Morrison, answered three of Inner City Press' question by saying, you have to wait until the audit is finished, you have to ask the auditors, for example why the beginning of the audit was postponed for week, from March 12 to March 19.

            But on Wednesday, the Executive Secretary of the UN Board of Auditors, Swatantra Goolsarran, wrote to Inner City Press that he cannot answer any questions unless authorized by the Board. Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson to ensure that Mr. Goolsarran is told that he can and should speak to the press, on matters within his expertise. This was a phrase Ban Ki-moon used in his first press encounter upon become Secretary General, that he would encourage UN officials to speak to the media in matters within their expertise, said otherwise, not as whistleblowers but to answer factual questions.

            Another factual question sent to a UN-affiliated agency -- Inner City Press' March 12 question to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency as to how they will make payments in North Korea -- was went with a resounding "no comment" on Wednesday.

Mr. Ban and Mr. ElBaradei spoke Feb. 23 - but apparently not about currency, the audit or transparency

On Monday, this was sent to IAEA:

Here at UN Headquarters earlier today, UNDP spokesman David Morrison told us reporters that (1) the IAEA had asked UNDP to arrange to make payments for the IAEA in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but that (2) in light of UNDP's March 1 'suspension of operations' in the DPRK, due to inability to stop using seconded staff and paying in hard currency, UNDP told IAEA to find another UN agency to make payments for it in DPRK. [Mr. Morrison encouraged us to ask IAEA how they were paying.]

Can you confirm that IAEA asked UNDP to make payments for it, and then said to find another UN agency;  Can you state which UN agency was selected to make payments, and in what currency; and Does the IAEA visit to DPRK involve handlers and/or seconded staff?

            On Wednesday, the IAEA's Ayhan Evrensel wrote back:

"Dear Matthew, Sorry to get back to you late. We cannot tell anything about the planning at this moment, and I doubt if we will ever get into such logistical arrangements. You should have received my other mail just a minute before this (about the presser ElBaradei will hold in Beijing); I don't have any other information."

            So in interim recap: citing the need for transparency, Ban Ki-moon called for an urgent audit into UN agencies paying in hard currency in North Korea. However, when the audit gets delayed, no one can explain it. UNDP and the UN's Controller refer the press to the Board of Auditors, whose Executive Secretary says he cannot speak to the media. And another UN agency, IAEA, which was going to use UNDP for payments in North Korea -- and which UNDP while urging the media to ask IAEA who it will use, brags it will no longer serve -- now says it won't disclose the "logics" of how or in what currency it will pay in North Korea. But isn't that lack of transparency one of the ways the problem that Ban Ki-moon says he is trying to address began in the first place?

            The Executive Secretary of the UN Board of Auditors wrote:

Subj: Re: Press question on audit, from today's noon briefing: why was audit pushed back a week, etc, thanks 

Date: 3/14/2007 10:19:03 AM Eastern Standard Time

From: Swatantra Goolsarran

To: Inner City Press

Dear Mr. Lee, This is to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail. I am a United Nations staff member rendering administrative and technical support to the UN Board of Auditors.  As such, unless I am authorized by the Board to do so, I would be unable to provide information to the media on any matter connected with the work of the Board.  Such authorization has not been given to me. I trust that you appreciate my position on the matter.

            While appreciating Mr. Goolsarran's position, since it was Ban Ki-moon who called for the audit and for transparency, Mr. Ban's spokesperson has been asked to find a way that someone can answer questions about this delayed "urgent audit."

            Meanwhile, UNDP has not provided the information Mr. Morrison said in the hallway on Monday he would produce, and has not answered any of the emailed questions posed in follow-up to Tuesday's briefing. Ah, transparency...

 From the (garbled) transcript:

Inner City Press: Thanks for yesterday having Mr. Morrison answer questions with you. On a number of points he said we have to wait for the audit or you have to ask the auditors. So I wanted to know two things. One, when the audit is done, is it going to be made public?

Spokesperson: I assume so. I can only ask. Iíll ask the auditors.

Inner City Press:  I guess since Ban Ki-moon called for it. Thatís why Iím asking. But I understand, maybe youíll answer it. Many people have said ask the auditors various things. So I asked this Mr. (inaudible) who Mr. (inaudible) told me to ask. And heís responded today and said heís not authorized to speak to the press. So Iím wondering, since I kind of hit a dead end. So my question would be either whether can Ban Ki-moon authorize someone to speak to the press? Just on simple questions.

Spokesperson: He wonít speak until the report is done, until they are finished with their investigation.

Question: Which is when?

Spokesperson: I donít know. You have a 90 day (inaudible).

Inner City Press: Mr. Morrison said yesterday that it was postponed for a week, but he wouldnít say why it was postponed. Ask the auditors. So I asked the auditors and they say we are not authorized to speak to the press. But itís a simple question. Itís not asking to pre-judge the audit or anything. I think it only helps the UN to say ďhereís why we postponed it for a week.Ē I donít need to get into commentary. I guess I want to ask you who can speak for the auditors?

Spokesperson: I will ask who has the right to speak on their behalf.

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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