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At the UN, Chad and Darfur Fall Into Footnotes, Sudanese Praise of French But Not UN Soldiers

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- While some predict Security Council resolution in March on sending UN peacekeepers to Chad, the Council's president for February, Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, on Feb. 28 told Inner City Press that it is unlikely that "anything can happen in Chad until summertime." The obstacles include Chadian president Deby's now-stated opposition to peacekeepers (he would prefer a "civilian" presence).

            On March 2, the incoming president of the Security Council, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said that Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic only in the footnotes of this month's Council agenda, that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has said that even a civilian force would need protection, and that discussions continue. Video here. Inner City Press also asked when to expect UN envoy Joaquim Chissano to brief the Council about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Outgoing Council president Burian raised to the issue to Amb. Kumalo during their bilateral meeting of transition.

            A less studied response to Inner City Press' questions, on March 1, Sudan's Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press that he, too, doubts that Chad will let in the force the UN would like to send. "We are the same people," he said, saying that one of Deby's sons is named Omar, after Sudan's president Omar al Bashir.

   Inner City Press asked for his explanation of last year's abortive march by rebels on Chad's capital, ostensibly stopped by France dropping of a bomb next to the rebel column. "France showed too much force," Sudan's Ambassador said, adding that his government has fewer doubts about French troops than UN blue helmets, against whom the Ambassador raised issues of sexual and other abuse.

Mr. Ban at the Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery event

            It was at an event on slavery -- the opening of the "Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery" exhibit -- in the UN visitors' entrance on Thursday night that the Sudanese Ambassador made his remarks to Inner City Press. He began be remarking that the commemoration of slavery should be a national holiday in the United States. He continued:

"Chad, they don't like this force. They want a small civilian force here and there, just to make the world community happy they are doing something. Darfur and Chadians are the same people. Idriss Deby [Chad's President], his wife delivered in the medical hospital in Khartoum. His youngest son is named Omar, for Omar al Bashir. His second wife is Sudanese...

"Now the Security Council is considering this resolution. They say they have not money for Darfur, but they want to deploy to Chad and to Somalia. [CAR president] Bozize? There is a reconciliation there, the Libya mediation. There are many problems there and in Chad that have nothing to do with Darfur. Like in our case, it is better to advance the peace process."

            Inner City Press asked about France's dropping of a bomb in Chad to defend the Deby government last year. Who were the rebels? Why did they stop advancing? Had they been told to simply knock on Deby's door -- either related to oil and the World Bank's conditional loans, or to recognizing China and not Taiwan -- and then to back away?

      "The French response was too big, too massive... We prefer the French to the UN troops, the French do not engage in sexual exploitation like the UN peacekeepers do. In Sudan we don't consider the French as destabilizers."

            When Ban Ki-moon spoke at the Thursday event, he said that slavery continues to this day, including in the use of child soldiers. Canapes were passed around and Ambassadors chit-chatted. On the walls were pictures of slave traders, including Humphrey Morice (1679-1731), who besides owning eight slave ships, named for his wife and daughters, was also a governor of the Bank of England. Beside this picture, the Ambassadors of Sudan and the UK made small talk. Only at the UN...

            At deadline, in other inside-the-UN news, Inner City Press has learned that Warren Sach has been removed from the post of Ban Ki-moon's representative to the UN Pension Fund, replaced on March 1 by Alicia Barcena of the Department of Management. Perhaps this explains Mr. Sach's recent non-response to recent questions. [At 4 p.m., eight hours after questions, an auto-response arrived, that Mr. Sach is away from UN Headquarters from Feb. 28 -- the day of the Pension Fund press conference -- through March 12.] Ms. Barcena, on the other hand, will be taking questions from the Press on March 5...

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At the UN, Sudan's Letter Is in the Mail, UNDP Envoy Is on the Lam, Blix Is in the House

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 26 -- While Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir on Monday said the UN Security Council "has hidden agenda aimed at putting Sudan under the United Nations trusteeship," in New York Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said that Al Bashir's letter to Mr. Ban is in the mail. That is, the letter has been sent from the Sudan, but has not been received in New York. Inner City Press, which Monday asked for comment on Al Bashir's theory, now asks: Where, then, is the letter? Video here, from Minute 14:33.

            Meanwhile, a World Food Program-hired ship was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. Inner City Press asked the spokeswoman if WFP is in contact with the U.S. warship reportedly speeding toward the pirates. There was no answer.

Mr. Ban and Gambian ambassador Crispin Grey-Johnson, pre-explusion and pre-explanation

            On the other hand, the spokesperson was willing to confirm that the president of the Gambia -- whose election the UN blessed last year, click here for that Inner City Press story -- has thrown out of the country the representative of the UN Development Program. What happens next? The spokesperson said that while the UNDP representative will be in New York in two days' time, outreach being done to Gambia's president by Ban Ki-moon and before that, Deputy Security General Asha Rose Migiro.

            Ms. Migiro was slated to give a speech Monday at 10:15 in conference room 2 of the UN, to the Commission on the Status of Women.  At 10:15, then 10:25, no sign of Ms. Migiro. The chairpeople droned on. Then she arrives, and spoke movingly of the plight of girl children. Afterwards she walk through the halls with scarcely an entourage: a single colleague. Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Ocampo also left, while the head of the UN Population Fund remained on the podium, at least until noon, listening to a lucid 17-year old speaker.

            More lucid still was Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector, who gave at least two speeches in the Millennium Hotel on Monday. At an afternoon panel on disarmament sponsored by The Century Foundation, Mr. Blix decried the "recent over-reliance on military strength" to search for weapons of mass destruction. Which country and current war might he be referring to? At an earlier breakfast for correspondents, and as reported by AP's bureau chief, Mr. Blix said of Iran that he "would be surprised if a poker player would toss away his trump card before he sits down at the table. Who does that?"

            In terms of table-sitting, we're compelled to memorialize Mr. Blix' farewell dinner, organized by the same bureau chief and members of the Security Council, and complete with a toast by then-Russian ambassador Sergei Lavrov. Reporters still follow Blix' every word...

Guinea Crisis Appears on Margins of Security Council Debate, UN Takes Backseat on Darfur

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

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 20, updated Feb. 21 -- With more than 100 dead in the turmoil in Guinea, on Tuesday in a UN Security Council debate, Canada said that the situation there should be put on the Council's agenda.

            Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Council president Peter Burian if he envisioned Guinea being discussed before the end of the month. Amb. Burian said that that topic was broached at a luncheon between Council members and Ban Ki-moon, and that now they would wait to hear from Mr. Ban's envoy. Video here. Another Council diplomat, this time from the Permanent Five, clarified that the UN will be assessing the situation, along with the regional body ECOWAS.

            Two African Ambassadors, however, took a different stance. Amb. Nanna of Ghana told Inner City Press, "It is too early" for Guinea to be discussed by the Security Council. South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo was more blunt. "It doesn't qualify" for treatment by the Security Council, he said. When told that Canada had asked that Guinea be added to the agenda, Amb. Kumalo sighed, "So much for our neighbors."

UN Takes Backseat on Darfur, Looks to Asteroid

            The UN's apparently Sisyphusian efforts to get its peacekeepers into Darfur leads it to stay strangely silent. On Tuesday in Libya, the Darfur-based rebels of the National Redemption Front met with the Sudanese government. At UN Headquarters in New York, Inner City Press asked if UN envoy Jan Eliasson was attending, as at least one article had reported, and if the UN had any comment on the Libyan initiative.

Sudan - not Libya?

            Subsequently the office of Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said that while Mr. Eliasson is not attending, the UN welcomes anything that might help. But why then not mention this Darfur meeting in Libya until asked about it? The same was raised about the UN's silence until asked about attacks on UN vehicles in Kosovo. Two journalists on Tuesday asked the spokesperson about calls on the UN to do something about an asteroid which has a 45,000 to 1 chance of striking the Earth in the mid 2030s. One wag noted, "Yeah, the UN can't get peacekeepers into Darfur, but it can shoot down an asteroid in the future." A listener said, "You are a UN-hater." But that's not true.

            Tuesday evening at the Security Council stakeout, Sudan's Ambassador took questions off-camera in Arabic. Asked by Inner City Press if Jan Eliasson had attended the Libya meeting, the Ambassador indicated that he thought Mr. Eliasson had attended... [  ]

Update of Wednesday, Feb. 21, Reuters again reports that Mr. Eliasson will be at the Libya talks, click here to view. AFP, however, got denials of attendance from both the UN and the AU. Lost in space?

At the UN, Calls for Transparency and Short-Lists for Genocide Prevention Post, Russian Sporting, Salad Days

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 -- The place of human rights in Ban Ki-moon's UN was questioned on Wednesday. Acting on reports that the Kofi Annan-created Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide might be downgraded or merged out of existence, three non-governmental organization held a press conference at which they urged transparency and that short-lists be released of any possible successor to the current advisor, Juan E. Mendez. The NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Global Policy and Amnesty International, urged Ban Ki-moon to make public the report and recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the S-G on the Prevention of Genocide.

            Afterwards, Amnesty International's Yvonne Terlingen was asked if she had a copy of the report. She at first indicated that she did have a copy, then declined to provide a copy to requesting journalists, one of whom scoffed, "So the NGOs want transparency for everyone but themselves."

            At the subsequent UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if that report, and another one by Mr. Mendez about the Ivory Coast, could be released. Video here, from Minute 14:53.  Four hours later, the spokesperson's office responded:

"regarding your question about NGOs urging the SG to consider making public the report and recommendations of the advisory committee to the SG on prevention of genocide: The SG has received the report and is considering its recommendations -- it is not presently public."

            As the report on the Ivory Coast, dated back to December 2005, nothing was said. The spokesperson did say, however, that Mr. Mendez won't be reappointed, because he has asked not to be. So will a short-list be released in this test case? We'll see.

Ms. Terlinger, 2d from left, 2006

            So who wants transparency at the UN? Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for a comment on the controversial settlement of the toxic waste dumping scandal between the Gbagbo government in Ivory Coast and Trafigura, the European dumper which, as Inner City Press first reported, was part of the UN Oil for Food scandal. It is a settlement between a private corporation and a member state, the spokesperson said, declining comment. Kofi Annan speechified on the topic, but the new Administration apparently views it as a "private" matter.

            Another request made on Wednesday was for a list of all UN Goodwill Ambassadors and "Dollar a Year" dignitaries. The latter requests dated back to the prior Administration, and has yet to be filled. At a press conference with UNDP -- click here for that article -- tennis player Maria Sharapova was named a Goodwill Ambassador. UNDP's Ad Melkert declined to provide a simple number on the volume of UNDP's payments in North Korea in 2005, a year for which the books are presumably closed. Afterwards, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was seen exiting the protocol room containing Ms. Sharapova with a broad smile on his face. In the hallway he told of his "sketchy" sporting career, including speed skating.  Inner City Press asked him for his favorite length. 1,500 meters was the answer.  There followed a story of breaking his leg in St. Tropez. Ms. Sharapova left with an entourage including UNDP's Communications Office staff.  At the UN these days it is all spin, all the time.  As one wag put it, commenting on recent fix-ups of the staff cafeteria, the only thing that's gotten more transparent at the UN is the salad bar, which is now under less opaque plastic.

            Wednesday also marked the first snow of the season in New York. The UN closed down its main walkway, shunting pedestrian entrants into the basement corridor by the library. Dignitaries arriving by car, denied access to the tent by the General Assembly, parked by the front door and entered along a thin and quivering path like on suburban yards everywhere. Many senior officials left at 3 p.m.. One long-time correspondent remembered back in anger at when, when the Rodney King verdict was read out in Los Angeles, the UN closed down and sent everyone home early. What was that again, about a human rights culture?

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

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

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