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UN's Gambari to Abuja and Reed to Tokyo, Musical Chairs Between Haiti and HQ, Where Lights Go Out

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- UN envoys old and new are on the move, but to what end is not clear. At Friday's noon briefing, Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson announced what amounts to a job swap.

   Hedi Annabi, longtime Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping, will head south to Port au Prince as the UN's envoy to Haiti. He will replace Edmund Mulet, who will return not to Guatemala but New York, to take Annabi's old post. Ban promised to shake things up but this looks like musical chairs.

        Inner City Press asked, "with Mulet and Mr. Annabi just basically swapping jobs, did they request that or is there some national distribution?"

     The deputy spokesperson said, "they were the two people who were best qualified for the positions that the Secretary-General saw fit for the positions." So Mulet, who oversaw the sending of tanks into Cite Soleil, should be given more toys to play with? And Annabi demoted, in the midst of detailed Darfur negotiations?

             It was also announced that UN Peacekeeping's chief for Africa, Dmitry Titov, will accede to a higher post, ASG for "Rule of Law." Titov has presided over Congo and Darfur and as everyone knows, that's gone well. So why not a promotion? "Who will take Titov's place?" another reporter inquired. While no answer was given, later in the lobby Inner City Press was told by an official that Titov's job will be split in two. And so, another empty post. It's musical chairs on steroids.

            Meanwhile, it took a day to confirm that Ibrahim Gambari, whose current posts are limited to Iraq and Myanmar, wrote a letter to Nigeria's vice president, offering the UN's help for some sort of comprehensive (final?) solution in the Niger Delta region.

Ibrahim Gambari at the UN in 1984, at right, as Nigerian foreign minister

 On July 26, Inner City Press asked

One, if you can confirm that the letter went out.  Two, what assistance the UN would be offering and in what capacity Mr. Gambari is writing that letter, whether itís Iraq or Myanmar.  And I guess, given that heís from Nigeria, if you could explain what the sort of safeguards or policies are of the UN in terms of UN officials dealing in their own country.

  The answer, 22 hours later, was

Subj: Your questions on Gambari 

From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at] un.org

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/27/2007 10:15:48 AM Eastern Standard Time

Hi Matthew -- I have the following for you re your question on the Niger Delta. Mr. Gambari did write to the government recently along the lines of what AFP reported, in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General. It is a discussion that has been going on for some time now, and was raised between the Secretary-General and the President of Nigeria on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany. The UN has indicated its willingness to work with the Government of Nigeria in finding ways to achieve peace and sustainable development in that region.

            But what about the policy on UN officials dealing in their own country? There was no on-the-record answer. It was pointed out that, for example, the heads of the UN Information Centers in some countries are staffed by locals. But this, having a genial Nigeria ex-general write to his countries Vice President about an area in rebellion, seems different. Whether Gambari has spoken up about Ban Ki-moon's planned consolidation of the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa post which Gambari used to hold is not yet known.

            More representative of old-school internationalism, Joseph Verner Reed, previously the American chief of protocol who mis-sized Queen Elizabeth's podium (the so-called "talking hat" incident), has flown to Japan to deliver a speech for Ban Ki-moon. Some wondered if it could be true, given Reed's age and mobility. But he is a still a "dollar a year" Under Secretary General, ensconced on the 27th floor with another Ban Ki-moon ally (and observing Ban's unique management style).

   Reed will speak August 3 at the Buddhist temple on Mount Hiei, at a "twentieth anniversary summit meeting of religious leaders." In an advance copy of Reed's speech, he promotes the UN's Alliance of Civilizations, and says "in this age of satellite television and jet travel, distances have collapsed."  Reed's post is a dollar a year, but the travel is paid for. Reed's an expert on Morocco and Korea, as well. We'll follow this. For now, from a George Bush 39 press conference, May 15 1991:

Question: How come you didn't give the Queen a step to stand on yesterday?

The President: That's what we hired Joseph Reed for. [Laughter]

Q. Oooh.
 

    It's best for the Press to follow stories when the lights are on. But Saturday, UN Headquarters turned off the electricity, to run tests. UN staff were told, repeatedly, to unplug their computers. But nothing was said at the UN's noon briefings, nor in emails to correspondents. Maybe it's a test -- is the Press backing up its work? The answer is always. We will continue on the beat.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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

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