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At the UN, Clashing Stories on Council  and Peacekeeping Reform, UNHCR on Swiss and Thailand

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- The Ban Ki-moon team insists that the General Assembly will by June 1 grant them a requested $65 million for the splitting of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in two. Meanwhile GA experts, already admonished by Team Ban for not being upbeat enough, privately tell Inner City Press such rubber-stamp passage of this amount of money is unlikely. Why did they start so late? It is not clear.

            In another bit of cognitive dissonance, on Thursday Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative Takahiro Shinyo told reporters that there is still a chance that Security Council reform will be acted on in the less month-and-a-half.

            Less than an hour later, eight blocks south, Swiss Ambassador Peter Maurer told a different group of reporters that "I am under no illusion we will find a solution on Security Council reform in this General Assembly." The smart money is on Amb. Maurer's position because, as he said, the Permanent Five members are basically not in favor of reform. He said if a serious proposal emerged that might command a significant majority, then and only then would the Permanent Five taken any interest.

            In a burst of candor, over a conference table in the Swiss mission's 29th floor office over Third Avenue, Amb. Maurer laughed and said, "I know this sounds like something on another planet... transcendental." He recounted how in Switzerland's role in sports-promotion, it has more positive relations with countries such as Tunisia than it does when discussion, for example, the UN Human Rights Council (to which on Thursday Angola, Egypt and Qatar were elected, while higher-profile Belarus fell short).

Iraqi refugees per UNHCR (see below)

            Amb. Maurer also mentioned Switzerland's collaboration with Tunisia on "World Information Society" events. He did not mention that during this process, Tunisia provided a highly censored version of the Internet. Amb. Maurer reiterated a point made in his speech in the ECOSOC chamber earlier in the day, that information technology improvements are needed not only in poor countries but also in the UN system, which he called "retarded when it comes to information and knowledge management."

            In light of Switzerland's barring, at least temporarily, of refugees from Iraq, Inner City Press first asked the UN's refugee agency UNHCR for a comment, which Geneva-based Jennifer Pagonis provided:

"On the Swiss not taking Iraqis, we are disappointed with the outcome, as we are anxiously looking for countries that can take up vulnerable and uprooted Iraqis and Palestinians from Iraq who are or have been targeted and are fleeing/have fled persecution. We do however appreciate Switzerland's willingness to discuss the issue and we hope that Switzerland and UNHCR can continue discussing the potential resettlement of Iraqi/Palestinian  and other refugees to Switzerland in the future."

            Inner City Press asked Ambassador Maurer about the issue on Thursday afternoon. Amb. Maurer said it is a "political hot potato," and that it is his understanding that the Swiss foreign minister has proposed in a cabinet meeting that Switzerland accept a "continent" of 500 Iraqi refugees. We'll see.

  In other UNHCR news, Inner City Press asked at Thursday's noon briefing about the reported closure of UNHCR's intake in Bangkok. The Office of the Spokesperson referred the question to Ms. Pagonis, who e-mailed this:

"Hi Matthew, Good to hear from you again. UNHCR has not been forced to close its doors to new asylum seekers. We are still registering the names of asylum seekers who come to the office but there is a pause in full processing as the Thai authorities had some requests and clarifications on our operations. We are hoping to get a formal proposition from them shortly on reviewing our modus operandi in the country. In the meantime, the office is open. Obviously, we hope
for this pause to be of short a duration as possible."

            So do we. Developing...

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

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