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In Burundi, Ban Praises What Nkurunziza Signed, Here, But Which Opposition?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 23 -- After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on New Year's Eve issued a statement surreally praising the Burundi “talks” held in Entebbe, Uganda, multiple sources told Inner City Press these not really talks but rather a photo op. The January 6 session announced for Arusha did not happen.  Inner City Press requested to cover the UNSC's trip to Burundi, but was UNtransparently rejected.

Ban Ki-moon took no press with him to Burundi - and then praised Pierre Nkurunziza's decision on the media, after having decided, through his Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach, to throw Inner City Press out of the UN.

 Ban made much of Nkurunziza's ostensible commitment to release political prisoners and meet with "the opposition." But which opposition? And which prisoner? Inner City Press is publishing what Nkurunziza signed, here and here, and these questions from the ground:

Article 1 mentioned categories of those who are supposed to be realized. The common fact is that those mentioned in the article do not have any relation with the Ongoing political unrest. Actually, we were excepting the realise of FNL, MSD, and all political prisoners such as insurgents, and the above mentioned opponents to the regime. But none of them would fall under the categories evoked by the article.

 On Ban Ki-moon's meeting with Nkurunziza: Is the dialogue going inclusive. We shall be able to see it if Nkurunziza says that is going to meet key opposition figures and the civil society leaders, including Nyangoma (CNARED), Sinduhije (Red Tabara), Nininahazwe Pacifique, etc. When? And where? Remember Nkurunziza said that he'll never seat on same table with co-plotters, protest and insurgent leaders as well. So, what is the guarantee that he changed is mind? We'll have more on this.

In Bujumbura on February 23, Ban said:

"I welcome the decision by His Excellency President Nkurunziza to withdrawal some media bans, cancel the arrest warrants and release detainees as good will gestures. President Nkurunziza told me this morning that he will release a list of twelve hundred detainees and take other measures. I have asked him, while I welcome these generous support and measures but I would expect that additional measures should be taken. This is an encouraging step. I hope again additional measures will be taken."

  On February 19, Ban's guards and DPI threw Inner City Press out of the UN, physically, and have yet to restore its Resident Correspondents pass.

But even from the park in front of the UN on 43rd Street in Manhattan, Inner City Press interviewed Security Council ambassadors about Ban's trip, which despite his typical lack of transparency has in fact begun on February 22.

Inner City Press tweeted a photo, here, and reports from sources that already, five men have been killed in Bujumbura and Gisozi while Ban is in the country.

Echoing again Ban's ill-fated "victory tour" in Sri Lanka in 2009. He is to meet Pierre Nkurunziza on February 23. Watch this site.

 For February 13, the UN in Burundi issued a warning to its own staff to be careful ("prudent") about a demonstration organized by Pierre Nkurunziza's ruling party. Inner City Press is putting it online, here.

  One won't find that notice on the website of the UN "Information" Center or UNIC in Bujumbura, at least not as of February 17. (The site is mostly just... Ban Ki-moon.)

 But that UNIC is being cited for the handed-out news that Ban Ki-moon will visiting, Feb 22-23. On February 17, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric to confirm what the UNIC had said -- and he wouldn't. Video here. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, the UNIC (United Nations Information Centre) in Bujumbura, Beatrice Nibogora is quoted that Ban Ki-moon will visit the country February 22nd and 23rd.  Is that the case?

And what are his goals?  And is he aware of the recent pattern of house demolitions and seizures of those who have left?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think the Secretary-General is very clearly aware of the situation in Burundi and the continued violence and the lack of progress on the political talks.  And when we're able to officially announce the visit, we will.

Inner City Press: it seems like it was announced there.  Was there some [reason]?

Silenced even before he goes. On February 18, Inner City Press asked again, from the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I’d very much expected you to announce the Burundi trip.  And the reason I ask you is, the person that announced it was the UNIC, the UN office in Bujumbura.  So is the… can you… and Member States have already been informed of it.  Is there some reason that you’re not…

Spokesman:  Once we’re ready to announce, we will announce the trip.  In fact, I may have something related to that shortly.

Inner City Press:  Okay.  And I wanted to… on Burundi, substantively, the Defence Minister has proposed a reintroduction of the death penalty in the country, specifically with regard to the… to events since May.  And I wanted to know… I mean, I know that the UN is presumably generally against the death penalty, but in this particular case, its… its reintroduction in light of the turmoil, do you have a comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think not just presumably and generally, specifically we are against the death penalty, and I think we would deplore, you know, I think any… we would want to see a movement away from the death penalty and not towards the death penalty.

Inner City Press:  Just one last thing on trips, do you mind?  I just wanted… since we’re on the same topic, I wanted to… I’m trying to think of how the best way to do it is.  On… if the… if the Secretary-General is going to Burundi, presumably he’s not taking any press.  But I wanted to ask you, on trips where press is done, just to explain how it’s done.  I know that on the Council’s trip to Burundi, it was said it was done through your office.  And I wanted to know, was that always the case?  And if it’s not the case, how is it done in some other cases through particular Security Council members?  Who decides that?

Spokesman:  It’s up to the Security Council to decide.

Inner City Press:  All 15, like…

Spokesman:  It’s up… [inaudible]

Inner City Press:  They just tell your office?

Spokesman:  I work for the Secretary-General, who I’ve just told Mr. Abbadi is independent.  So I cannot speak…  [inaudible]

Inner City Press:  If one member contacts your office…

Spokesman:  Matthew, you’ll have to speak to the Security Council members concerned or the presidency. 

  That would be France.

For now all Inner City Press will say is, remember Ban's "victory tour" of Sri Lanka in 2009 . That one, Inner City Press covered - and things have proceeded.

 On February 15, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, UN transcript here.

  Then nothing from the UN Spokesperson's office about any Ban trip.

At the February 5 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about Burundi, video here, transcript here.  

  Handpicked to go and memorialize the trip was Reuters, which barely reported what happened. There is a history, of Reuters UN bureau here and here; on February 3, Reuters correspondent Michelle Nichols went so far as to cut off Inner City Press' questions to the UN, Vine here.

  On February 3 Reuters' UN bureau chief Lou Charbonneau, a censor,  channeled a UN (DRC) report -- note not only the former Reuters official turned Eritrea sanctions “experts” exposed by Inner City Press here, but also that this same now discredited Reuters / UN individual was previously ON the DR Congo panel. Typically, Reuters did not actually put the report online.

  Inner City Press in the spirit of transparency is publishing the (update) report, dated January 15, 2016, signed by Coordinator Gaston Gramajo, and its two paragraphs about 18 Burundian combatants, here.

DR Congo "Group of Experts" Progress Report Including on Burundi by Matthew Russell Lee

Readers can draw their own conclusions, including about the mandate and motivation, and if these 18 is really the way it would go.

 At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ban Ki-moon barely if at all pushed for peacekeepers for Burundi; his or France's head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous had largely undercut the idea with a memo than Inner City Press published in full.

(Inner City Press has reported the UN Peacebuilding Configuration will visit February 15-19, click here for that.)

Inner City Press on February 3 asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, transcript here.

On February 2, Inner City Press similarly asked the UN's Haq, transcript here.

  Meanwhile, on January 29, the UN Spokesman threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room then on February 1 made this threat, here. This was echoed on February 2.

 On January 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about a meeting held but not televised on January 27, at which it was urged that mass grave sites in Burundi be preserved as evidence, video here, transcript here.

On January 29, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, transcript here.

  So it's all on Zeid, nothing from Ban Ki-moon, who appears to be playing this like he did Sri Lanka...

 At the UN Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press waited -- including through two North Korea questions, and softballs -- then asked if this UN use of Burundian troops makes sense. There has yet to be an answer, although there are indications one might be forthcoming. (More than 24 hours later, no).  Here for now is about the US training Burundian troops. Watch this site.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokespeople about the trip on January 20, 21 and 22 - including asking why the UN was not providing a video or at least audio stream of the January 22 press encounters, says it has a  "UN Information Center" in Bujumbura, which produced a smiling photo of the French deputy ambassador Alexis Lamek on the tarmac. The UN said it couldn't.

  Local media in Burundi put online a video in which Lamek spoke at length; afterward a pro-government Burundian media quoted Lamek that "we" take seriously the question of interference by Rwanda to destabilize Burundi and will be working on it.

  But the four scribes handpicked to accompany the Security Council trip, inlcuding Agence France Presse, it seems, for some reasons didn't cover it. Why? We'll have more on this. Instead, AFP, Reuters and Voice of America (which saw "Liberians" then cited auto-correct) filed near-identical stories with no quotes from opposition figures or attacked journalists. None of the three even tweeted on January 23, other than Reuters as a robot: talk about Old Media.

  How could "Agence France Presse," handpicked to publicize the UNSC trip co-led by France, not even cover the controversy?

  We note that the French Mission to the UN said that Lamek was being misrepresented (the same French Mission has tried to shield Lamek from critical Press questions, which here on Vine Lamek has refused to answer even when entirely audible). Later an AFP quote emerged of Lamek saying that any AU force, even the 100 human rights observers, should significantly focus on the Rwandan border.

  On the evening of January 23 the UN has put up select clips including a mere 16 seconds of French deputy ambassador Lamek, much less than the local Burundian media present at the same press encountered had.  If the UN filmed the press encounters, why did it so selectively edit them?

  More specifically, now, who decided on the edits?

Inner City Press, which is the media which on January 22 asked for the live-stream, has asked the UN, publicly on Twitter, here, and in more detail by e-mail to three top UN spokespeople:

"having just seen that your Office put online edited video from Burundi, must ask: why did UN edit the footage it has, with no Burundi government speaker, and only 16 seconds of France, penholder in the UNSC on Burundi? Please provide the full footage, in response to this request and, separately, online. Would also still like answers to questions below" on Burundi.

 And still no answers at all, the next day. Watch this site.

  The UN spokespeople refused to say, but beyond the pro-government "religious leaders" that they cited, the Council also met with at least some of the concerned members of civil society, and some journalists who inevitably raised the issue of attacks and censorship. This was not mentioned by the UN.

  We're told that Ambassador Albert Shingiro, who blocks the Press on Twitter, told the scribes that US Power said she would send “a strong message to the government of Rwanda." Again, Shingiro blocks the Press on Twitter: some diplomat.

  One of the four handpicked pass-throughs opined that "the fact that Council members presented Nkurunziza with a largely unified message on the different issues was seen as a positive sign that they had come closer to a common position." So they traveled to Burundi to work on their own issues? We'll have more on this - and on the Council's junket-ending meetings in Addis, if not on Oromo protests, than this we've asked about. Watch this site.

   On January 22, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq for the UN's response to Pierre Nkurunziza denying the existence of his party's youth militia, and why there was no video or even audio stream of the Security Council's - and Nkurunziza's -- press statements. Video here.

  Haq replied that "the facilities are difficult," that the UN Spokesperson's Office had reached out to the traveling party for information but hadn't gotten any. The Free UN Coalition for Access calls this a failure.

 On January 21 Inner City Press in New York learned both of Pierre Nkurunziza plans to parade "community work" for the Security Council members on January 22 and has been provided with a letter promoting same, here.

  On January 22, even after the Council's meeting with Nkurunziza was over, when Inner City Press asked the UN for a read-out there was none, nor any good explanation of why the UN with its country team could not arrange at least an audio stream of the Council's (and Nkurunziza's) press statements.

 Tellingly, IWACU reports that bike taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers offered money to protest in favor of Nkurunziza weren't, after the fact, paid: here.

On January 19 at the UN, Inner City Press asked Uruguay's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Jose Luis Cancela, chairing the Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians, about Burundi and the Council's trip. Video here.

  On January 21, Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft about his stop-over on Addis Ababa, "will you as UK meet with AU before heading to Burundi? About AU's proposed deployment?"

   Rycroft replied, "Yes! Looking forward to meeting @AU_Chergui today. Will also return to Addis with whole UNSC after Burundi."

  In Addis, Chergui had filed the Concept of Operation for the MAPROBU peacekeeping mission. We'll have more on this.

  Burundian civil society has written to Ban seeking the repatriation of the country's peacekeepers. Inner City Press has put the letter from Vital Nshimirimana to Ban online here, and will be asking the UN about it. Watch this site.

  On December 30 Nkurunziza threatened to have his forces attack peacekeepers proposed for the country.

Obtained by Inner City Press

Ladsous' lack of vetting was criticized in the recently released report into the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in the Central African Republic. Earlier, Inner City Press exclusive reported on Ladsous in his October 1, 2015 meeting with Burundi's vice president saying that he is "pragmatic" on human rights.

 On December 16 Inner City Press was banned from questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but learned from the mission MINUSCA that Baratuza was already in Entebbe. Inner City Press asked several Security Council members, then Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on December17.

Dujarric told Inner City Press Baratuza's deployment is suspended and he is being repatriated: "based on the information we've received regarding the Lieutenant Colonel, his deployment has been suspended, and he will be repatriated back to Burundi." Video here. Dujarric told Inner City Press this shows the UN system working - on a day when a report on rapes was issued showing UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous not sufficiently vetting for human rights. We'll have more on this.

 Amid the escalating killings in Burundi, summary executions in neighborhoods opposed to Pierre Nkurunziza's third term stand out. But Burundi Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted on December 12 blaming all of the deaths on attempts to steal weapons to free prisoners.

   Inner City Press heard that Mr. Baratuza was already in the process of being deployed to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) even when he was giving these quotes, issuing statements and speaking to state-owned radio, and so asked MINUSCA's acting spokesperson, “Is Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA job?” Ultimately, after the questioning, he didn't.
   But the UN should have to say more. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked the UN how its Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous vets those who deploy to UN missions; Inner City Press exclusively reported on an October 1, 2015 meeting in which Ladsous told Burundi's Vice President Joseph Butare that he is “pragmatic” on human rights.

 Ban Ki-moon and his spokesman declined to take Inner City Press' questions on December 16, as they did on December 14. Vine here.  Watch this site.

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