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On Syria, Ban Has Scribes to Office, Avoids UNTV, Rape Fumble Led to Raid

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNdisclosed Location, March 21 -- To announce his Syria chemical weapons probe, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chose to speak Thursday morning in his 38th floor office and not on UN Television - why?

  To not be on UNTV taking questions, as those requesting the probe(s) were the day before?

The key issue was whether Ban's UN will look into just the Aleppo March 19 incident raised by the Assad government, or the other alleged or “rumored” uses pushed by France and the UK.

 But despite doling out access and a statement to scribes in his office, they left saying it was unclear. Unclear too is why it was done this way.

   Let's review: Ban's last UNTV stakeout was on March 5 after a Security Council session on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ban took two questions -- neither on the Congo -- and turned to leave.

   Inner City Press asked, “Question on the Congo?” then asked about the UN's inaction on 126 rapes in Minova by the Congolese army, with which the UN partners.

Ban's answer was, yes, unclear, saying “we will do our utmost.”

  But under Herve Ladsous, UN Peacekeeping had been dodging the question since at least November 27 (when Ladsous took scribes into the hall to escape the Press question) and December 18, when Ladsous' spokesman seized the UNTV microphone to try to avoid the question from Inner City Press, video here.

   How did the UN respond? Two days later on March 8 Ladsous' DPKO summoned scribes who had never asked about the Minova rapes and gave them half answers, which they dutifully reported.

   It was and is unclear: which two units of the Congolese army have been threatened with loss of support, and what is the deadline? The scribes didn't mention this.

  On March 8 as Inner City Press at the Security Council stakeout answered another journalist's question about Ladsous' sleight of hand, or slight of scribe, Agence France Presse's Tim Witcher cut in to hiss, “Lies and distortion.” Inner City Press replied, “Lapdog.”

  Using this, Witcher and Reuters correspondent Michelle Nichols filed bogus complaints with UN Security. Twice in the next week it was demanded of Inner City Press that it submit a written response to complaints it was not shown a copy or summary of.

  Inner City Press raised this to the head of the Department of Public Information on March 15, asking again as the NY Civil Liberties Union did in mid 2012 for due process rules, which DPI official Stephane Dujarric denied.

  On March 18 without notice or consent, DPI's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit raided Inner City Press' office, going through papers.

  UN Correspondents Association president Pamela Falk was there taking pictures. That has yet to be explained -- but the UN did demand that Inner City Press remove from YouTube a video it openly filmed, post raid.

  The UN's strategy, as bigger picture on this Syria probe announcement, is UNclear. Watch this site.

From the UN: Press "encounter" without questions:

New York, 21 March 2013

Good morning.  Thank you for coming at this early hour and with such short notice. Thank you very much again.

As you know, there have been disturbing reports about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The two-year long conflict has plunged the country into extreme chaos with terrible consequences for the Syrian people.  

As the situation worsens, the international community’s concern about the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles as well as possible use of by all parties has increased.

I have repeatedly stated that use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would constitute an outrageous crime.  Anyone responsible must be held accountable.

I have emphasized the primary responsibility of the Syrian Government to ensure the safety and security of any such weapons or materials.

I have spoken out on this many times and sent letters to President Assad twice to remind him of this solemn duty.

Against this backdrop, yesterday I received a formal request from the Syrian authorities requesting a specialized, impartial and independent mission to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.

If requested by a Member State, I have a mandate to consider conducting an investigation on alleged uses of chemical, biological and toxin weapons pursuant to General Assembly resolution 42/37 C of 1987 and reaffirm by Security Council resolution 620 of 1988.

With this in mind, I would like to announce that I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation on the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.

My senior advisers are working on the modalities in close consultation with the relevant bodies, including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

These include detailed issues such as: overall mandate, mission composition, and operational conditions including safety and security.

I have also been in close contact with OPCW Director-General Mr. Ahmet Uzumcu and WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.  They have both assured me of their full support and cooperation.

It is my hope that the mission would contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian Government.  I am, of course, aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.

In discharging its mandate of an investigation mission, full cooperation from all parties will be essential.  
I stress that this includes unfettered access.
I will reiterate this point in my communication with the Syrian authorities.

I will also communicate my decision to the Security Council.

There is much work to do and this will not happen overnight. It is obviously a difficult mission.  I intend for this investigation to start as soon as practically possible.

Again my announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity.  

The international community needs full assurance that chemical weapons stockpiles are verifiably safeguarded.  

Finally, let me repeat that the horrors of the last months and years prove beyond doubt: the military solution in Syria is leading to the dissolution of Syria.

I call on the regional and international community to find unity and support the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to help the Syrian people reach a political solution.  

Thank you very much.

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