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Murky CAR Coverage Has Zuma Boosting Troops to 400, UN Stakeout Blackout

By Matthew Russell Lee, Blog

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- Why is the conflict in the Central African Republic so murky?

  Not only events in the country north of Bangui, but also the international community's responses, from UNseen stakeouts at the United Nations in New York to superseded South African counts of how many troops that country is sending?

  First it was said South Africa was sending 120 soldiers. Then the numbers reported climbed to 150, then 200. Finally today President Jacob Zuma posted a statement putting the number at 400, and saying he gave the authorization four days earlier. Why the delay?

  At the UN on January 4, Security Council President Masood Khan of Pakistan came to read a Council press statement on CAR, drafted by the French. Inner City Press was there, and at first was told there would be no on-camera reading of the statement, since "you are the only one here."

  Inner City Press tweeted the Council Presidency's readiness with the statement, and went to visit the basement offices of UN Television. Finally after 6 pm the camera was set up, and two of the wire services that cover the UN sent reporters to the stakeout.

  Ambassador Khan read the statement, then Inner City Press asked him how many troops each country was sending to defend Bangui from the Seleka rebels. Khan said the Council had received this information from UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman -- who had declined to speak to the press -- but that he didn't have it off hand.

  Inner City Press asked about those arrested by Bozize, on ethnic and even religious groups. Khan pointed to a portion of the statement about "targeting." And then he was gone.

  As Inner City Press wrote up the answers such as they were, another reporter ran up to the Council, saying that the "televised" stakeout had not been shown live on UNTV. Inner City Press summarized it, then uploaded its informal video of the stakeout, figuring the UN would put its video up soon.

  But now two days later, at 1 pm on January 6, a visit to the UN Webcast website finds the Central African Republic stakeout video is still not online. Stories were written, including by a wire "at" the UN but not present at the stakeout, a mere retyping of the e-mailed press statement.

  "Reporting" and thus public knowledge are being undermined by the UN. This sounds like a job for the Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, which asks: why are things so murky? Watch this site.

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