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Kosovo Precedent, Border War Silence, Stand-Up Comedy at the UN, Diss of Indigenous

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 18 -- On the Security Council's draft Kosovo resolution, a group of experts met on May 17. As described to Inner City Press by one diplomat in attendance, very little was accomplished. The diplomat however estimated ten or eleven votes in favor of independence for Kosovo. Will Russia veto or obtain? That is the question. The diplomat counted Slovakia as among the supporters, which is surprising given that the Slovakian legislature has said different.

            A rare Associated Press report on breakaway republics lists a litany, from West Papua and Aceh, from Flanders and, perhaps significantly, "Hungarian nationalists in Slovakia," to Transdniestria and parts of Georgia that AP leaves unnamed. (They are Abkhazia and South Ossetia; of the UN's historical role in West Papua, criticized by no less than South African Archbishop Tutu, we aim to have more soon.) Strangely absent from the list of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was mentioned at the UN on Friday by former envoy there, and now to Darfur, Jan Eliasson.

            Also not mentioned was Baluchistan, portions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The first of these two have been fighting this week, with more than a dozen deaths along the border. The Afghan foreign minister has written to Ban Ki-moon, although Ban's spokesperson has yet to confirm or even deny the receipt of the Reuters-reported letter, despite two requests so far from Inner City Press.

            On May 17, Inner City Press asked a diplomat from the Permanent Five if there has been any discussion in the Council this week about this border war. "Not that I'm aware of," he answered, and has not since amended. Of Afghanistan, the world community said "never again;" Pakistan is a nuclear state. But the hostilities between them register nowhere at the UN, while discussion can go on for hours about the proposed Hariri tribunal. Some see this as strange.

UN in Kosovo investigating human trafficking, from UN web site

            While that is not funny, this might be -- in the UN Headquarters lobby on Friday morning, a television monitor showed stand-up comedy about Michael Jackson and others. It was a teaser for a UN Security & Safety Service fundraiser, to be held in the Dag Hammarskjold Library auditorium later in the day. The flier promised, "V.I.P.'s will be present."

            Perhaps relatedly, either as humor or V.I.P. or both, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden is now scheduled to take questions for the press on May 21, at the Security Council stake-out. Stand-up comedy? We'll see.

            Decidedly not funny is the continuing opposition to the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration was approved in Geneva, but bogged down in late 2006 before GA approval. At first the opponents were New Zealand and Canada, Australia and its seems the U.S.. Then the African Group got involved, and the declaration was put on ice, with the idea that the President of the GA would bring the parties together.

            On May 17, Inner City Press asked South Africa's Ambassador Kumalo why the African Group, and by implication South Africa, was opposed to the draft declaration. Amb .Kumalo expressed surprised. On May 18 Inner City Press asked Amb. Kumalo's able staffer, who after inquiry responded that South Africa voted for the declaration in Geneva, and still supports it now.

    On Friday morning the African Group was meeting to try to unify a position. Which means that the reportedly twenty amendments ostensibly from the African Group that were given to the President of the GA were not, in fact, from the African Group, but only some counties in the Group, notably Botswana and Namibia. Inner City Press has responded to a press-pitch by the government of Botswana with a request to be sent the amendments; we'll see.

            Also not funny is the disconnection between this year's UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. UNPFII officials told Inner City Press they had no idea if Ban would meet with, much less support, them.  Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson, got no response, then asked again. There is no position yet, was the response, followed by an e-mail about one but only one of the issues raised:

"The Secretary-General is aware that a number of UN studies have recently been released regarding biofuels and the opportunities and challenges they pose for developing countries, the world’s poor as well as the environment. The emerging issue of biofuel development merits to be carefully evaluated in all its aspects by UN bodies and the international community as a whole so that its impact can be fully taken into account by Member States, civil society and the private sector."

            While appreciated -- and Inner City Press did sent thanks -- it doesn't answer the question about Ban's position on the draft declaration [and] on the indigenous. But then again, what's new? On whether Mr. Ban will meet with at least some UNPFII participants, Inner City Press was told as an explanation that Mr. Ban hasn't been asked, unlike his predecessor. With all the cardboard cut-out hand-shaking photographs emanating from the 38th floor, this one seems like a no brainer. We'll see.

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

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