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Terrorism Accusations Against UN Official and Iranian Guards Draw No Comments at UN

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 15, updated August 17 -- When the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator is called a terrorist by an official of a member state, one expects there to be some comment or response. At Wednesday's noon briefing and UN headquarters, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson was asked by Inner City Press about comments from a Sri Lankan parliamentarian and minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, that John Holmes is a terrorist. "We will not comment on this type of statement," spokesperson Michele Montas said.

  In the UN's own "Highlights" of the noon briefing, it is transcribed: "Asked about comments made by a Sri Lankan official concerning Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, the Spokeswoman declined to comment on press reports."

            Another reporter asked for any UN reaction to the story, in the New York Times and elsewhere, that the United States is about to deem Iran's 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity. That hasn't happened yet, Ms. Montas said. "We don't comment on press reports." And so the long wait to see if and when Mr. Ban might rebuke the U.S., however gently, continues.

            There was a question repeated from Tuesday, about when the UN cartographers will finish delineating the long-dispute Shebaa Farms. On Tuesday, Ms. Montas said that the UN's cartographer had already been to Lebanon. On Wednesday, she said that the cartographers must now go to the region. Another controversy dodged, one reporter muttered.

            The statements coming out of Sri Lanka are harder to evade. Defense ministry official Keheliya Rambukwella also blamed the murders of 17 Action Contre la Faim workers on their own "negligence," and said Sri Lanka is filing a formal complaint with the UN about John Holmes saying that Sri Lanka is among the world's most dangerous places for humanitarian workers.

    Wednesday Inner  City Press asked Ms. Montas if any complaint had been received.  No, she said, and "we will not comment on this type of statement," that Holmes is by his remarks supporting terrorists and is therefore... a terrorist himself. Nor in the six hours after the UN's noon briefing was any comment provided in response to the question Inner City Press asked publicly at the briefing.  Yet another controversy dodged?

Ban speaks to reporters on August 14 -- nothing on climate, much less Sri Lanka or Suleiman Jamous

            In fact, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General did provide a comment on the Sri Lankan official's characterization of John Holmes as a terrorist -- that is, on a press report. Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq, responding to an email from Stockholm, told IPS

"While it is factually true that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of aid workers killed in 2006 [after Afghanistan], we would not want reaction to Mr. Holmes's comments to overshadow the many positive signs that emerged during his recent mission. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), which is headed by Holmes, 'notes that 17 of the 23 deaths of aid workers did happen in a single incident -- when 17 local workers for Action Contre La Faim  were killed in the northeastern town of Mutur while working on projects for survivors of the 2004 tsunami. We regret that the debate has led to the allegation that this event was caused by Action Contre La Faim.  We are seriously concerned about that allegation."

            While not providing any of this answer in the public briefing when the question was asked, or to the questioner thereafter, is hard to understand, there must be some method to the UN's madness.  The UN is taking the same turn-the-other-cheek positive (or Pollyanna) approach to Myanmar, where UN officials have praised the military rules even as the International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a rare public rebuke for the regime using civilians as human mine sweepers. The same Farhan Haq is quoted in the Thailand-based publication the Irrawaddy that

"All of Gambari's consultations are taking place in the implementation of the Secretary-General's good offices mandate for Myanmar, in support of which Myanmar's regional neighbors can play an important role... From the UN's point of view, it is important to try to mobilize all those who can potentially help support our efforts in the implementation of relevant General Assembly resolutions. The Secretary-General has asked Gambari to continue his dialogue with the Government and people of Myanmar. He therefore intends to visit Myanmar again soon, although dates have yet been determined."

            Cynics say that on Myanmar, the Ban administration is torn -- normal, it has not from the 38th floor criticized member states' human rights records, or even supported such aspirational instruments as the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. But on Myanmar, the U.S. is on record that something should be done: it is one of the U.S. State Department's top five countries for action. Hence, much travel -- click here for yesterday's story about Ban's travel  and carbon offsetting, on which at least an answer was promised for the future. Yesterday's question about the UN Department of Safety and Security was simply not answered at all:

Inner City Press: We've heard that the Department of Safety and Security, in the case of the whistle blower, it came up about him being put on the photo array to be kept out of the building.  Iíve heard that, since then, the Department of Safety and Security has come up with a list of people that are not in the photos, but are to be only allowed into the building under escort.  And that this is something of a new policy that somehow reacts to issues that arose around retaliation.  Is there a way that you can ask the Department of Safety and Security if they have a new sort of second list of people and, if so, what's the purpose, and whether the names have to go through the Office of Legal Affairs to be put on it?  If there's any relation to what took place.

Spokesperson:  Sure, I will ask that.

   Thirty-six hours later, we're still waiting. On Wednesday, in light of reports that in Burundi the peace negotiation between the FNL and the government have stalled, reportedly for lack of $54,000, Inner City Press asked if the UN might step up and provide the needed funds, or otherwise keep the Burundi peace process going. The spokesperson responded that Burundi, along with Sierra Leone, is one of the first two countries targeted by the UN's Peace-building Commission. All the more reason to wonder -- with all the projects funded and promised, the peace could fail for lack of $54,000? Inner City Press ask for a simple list of countries in which the UN is paying money in support of peace-talk processes. A response was promised -- while six hours later there is nothing, we will wait and report the information when it is received.

Update of August 17, 11:20 a.m. -- On August 16-17, a two-line recap was emailed to Inner City Press: "We regret that the debate has led to the allegation that this event was caused by Action Contre La Faim. We are seriously concerned about that allegation."

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali 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