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UN Spins VIP Fireworks and "Standard" Meeting on Myanmar, Submachine Gun Tales

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 5 -- During New York's fireworks festivities, there was a riverfront viewing spot at the UN restricted to "delegates and VIPs," according to UN security. Another guard told Inner City Press, "That can't be right, at the UN we don't have VIPs," so-called "Very Important People."

            Through the smoke, the identities of the few dozen people at the base of the UN's satellite dish could not be identified. On Thursday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople just who these VIPs might be. The response puts a positive gloss on exclusivity:

Subj: Your question on 4th of July 

From: [Farhan Haq at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/5/2007 4:11:44 PM Eastern Standard Time

You'd asked about a special viewing section for the 4th of July fireworks yesterday, which was reserved for "VIPs and delegates."  I talked to security about who could be at that viewing section on the South Lawn, and they told me that, as far as VIPs were concerned, that refers to senior UN officials, but also to the spouses and family members of the police and security officers who had died on September 11 2001. We have done that every year since the incident, as part of our appreciation for the US security officials with whom we work over the rest of the year. As for which delegates could show up, that means anyone in the delegations, not just the Permanent Representatives.

            Of Nine-Eleven survivors, of course nothing can be said. That "anyone in the delegations" was allowed out onto the "South Lawn" -- really, two patches of grass, and a wide cement walkway next to the East River -- is not true; several groups of workers from Missions to the UN were turned away.

            One wonders which V.I.Permanent Representatives may have been out there in the smoke, rubbing shoulders with victims... the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, or of Myanmar? Of the latter, Inner City Press asked, twice, for a read-out on Ban Ki-moon's June 27 meeting with Amb. Kyaw Tint Swe. A read-out was promised but not given; on July 5 the request was made again:

Subj: your question about Myanmar 

From: [Farhan Haq at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/5/2007 11:40:54 AM Eastern Standard Time

You'd asked about the SG's meeting last week with the Perm Rep from Myanmar. The only thing I have to say on that this was a standard meeting in the context of the Secretary-General's good offices.

            Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross strongly criticized Myanmar's army's use of detainees as porters and, essentially, as involuntary human mine sweepers. The ICRC nearly always refrains from such criticism, in order to maintain humanitarian access -- making its rebuke of Myanmar all the more striking. But Ban Ki-moon's meeting with Myanmar's representative to the UN was "standard"...

Amb. Kyaw Tint Swe in the Security Council, January 2007 - fireworks, anyone?

            Further inquiries by Inner City Press about the fireworks view from what's now called the South Lawn -- inquiries into Myanmar also continue -- yield that the practice of limited use of the South Lawn  began under previous head of security Michael McCann. Inner City Press has interview a person allowed, under McCann, out on the exclusive perch; "it was the friends of Security," this F.O.S. says.

            Another muses of McCann, now offering online "discreet and customized security services for the diplomatic community, corporate executives, celebrities and their families," that he imported for UN use MP5 submachine made by Heckler and Koch of Germany.  Reportedly, after a first denial in the late 90s by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, appeal was made through Madeline Albright and Robert Rubin, who as Treasury Secretary oversaw the ATF. This was later reversed, and the MP5s were first put in storage in the UN's basement armory, then sent overseas to UN peacekeepers, reportedly in the Middle East. Some fireworks...

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

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