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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN's Guehenno Speaks of "Political Overstretch" Undermining Peacekeeping in Lower Profile Zones

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N

  UNITED NATIONS, July 15 -- "There is such a thing as political overstretch, which is related to but different from military limits," the head of the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations told Inner City Press on Saturday.

   After giving a briefing on Lebanon to the Security Council, or at least those Ambassadors who remained after their unanimous weekend vote on Resolution 1695 on the North Korean missiles, and saying he'd spoken with Kofi Annan fifteen minutes prior, Jean-Marie Guehenno walked out of the UN Headquarters telling Inner City Press of lesser-known hotspots in which tensions are now flaring: Cote D'Ivoire and Georgia, for example.

            "Do you think that some of the players, like Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, see the UN Security Council tied up with crises and see an opportunity to  in ways they otherwise might not?"

            "Good point," said Mr. Guehenno. "Peacekeeping operations need constant political support for the Security Council. People don't realize, soldier are only fifty percent of the cost of peacekeeping operations."


            The UN's DPKO lists fifteen active missions, seven of them in Africa, three each in Europe and the Middle East. The Americas and Asia each have only one: Haiti and Kashmir, respectively. Mr. Guehenno mentioned Afghanistan, and spoke of the overstretched military now being mentioned in connection with the situations in North Korea and Iran.

            A prime example of acting up while the Security Council devotes more than a week to removing a single line from a two-page resolution -- the dropping of Chapter 7 from Resolution 1695 on North Korea -- is the delay of the identification process in Ivory Coast, ensuring further delay of election and continued power for Laurent Gbagbo. See below.

UN Stasis as World Unravels Gives Space to Ivory Coast's Gbagbo and Others

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, July 14 -- The world, it is reported here and elsewhere, is unraveling. And as the UN Security Council remains this Friday night on hold, canceling a meeting scheduled for 5 pm so that the Permanent Five Plus Japan can meet at the U.S. mission, in the wider world there are grabs to take or cling to power. In Cote D'Ivoire, for example, the process of identification for the already-postponed election now slated for October 30 was supposed to begin this week. It did not however begin.

            At the UN, Inner City Press asked the Security Council president Jean-Marc de La Sabliere about events in Ivory Coast. The French mission provides this transcript:

Inner City Press Q: On Côte d’Ivoire, the identification process has been suspended. Do you have a comment?

Amb. de La Sabliere A: "This is a great concern. What the Council has done this month is to listen and react to a briefing from Mr. Guéhenno who was in Banjul and Yamoussoukro with the Secretary General. We are now preparing a PRST to support the conclusions of the Yamoussoukro meeting where new commitments were made. We want those commitments to be implemented. The PRST will be adopted, I hope, very early next week. Next step: the GTI will meet in Abidjan on the 20th of July. The Council will meet on the 26th.

"Going back to your question: the identification is a major element of the agreement. It was agreed upon by the parties of Côte d’Ivoire that identification and disarmament would go along. So, we cannot organize elections if the identification process is not done. So, identification is important, and the Council will have to assess what happened yesterday. As French Ambassador, I can say that the PRST will take that into account.

Q2: As French Ambassador, would it be your view that if elections are not held…?

A2: "My answer is that there will be a Summit in September. We will see what happens then."

   Unless of course there are other higher profile crises in September... In the run-up to the 90 p.m. let down, at 5 p.m. the press corps assembled for a scheduled Council consultation. Then cell phones and Blackberries went off, announcing the meeting was cancelled. In the lull before the 9:40 conclusion (see above), the stakeout scuttlebutt, at least among reporters, was that the U.S. veto on Thursday emboldens China to veto the draft Chapter 7 resolution on North Korea. Also in the lull, some drifted over to stakeout the U.S. mission. Others retired to the Delegates' Lounge, where Inner City Press Friday interviewed the Permanent Observer from Palestine, Riyad Mansour, who confirmed Inner City Press' finding that the U.S. government's Overseas Private Insurance Corporation insured the Gaza power plant, since Enron built it, click here for that harder-news story, and see below.

Bombed Gaza Power Station Built by Enron, Insured by U.S. Government's OPIC, According to UN Sources

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, July 14 -- The bombed Gaza power station was covered by a $48 million insurance policy, it has emerged. The insurer is the U.S. government's Overseas Private Insurance Corporation, OPIC. This was because of the plant's ownership by the Enron Corporation, whose chairman Ken Lay died last week while awaiting sentencing for business fraud. OPIC has insured other Enron power plants, in the Philippines, Turkey and India.

            The head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jan Egeland, told reporters on July 11 that the plant was insured by "an American insurance company" and that the policy might not be paid on, due to sanctions against the Hamas government. Immediately following Egeland's briefing, Inner City Press asked OCHA staff for the name of the American insurance company, as well as who had been paying the insurance premiums.  Having not heard back, on July 12 at the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked:

"In his briefing yesterday, Jan Egeland... mentioned that there is an insurance policy on the power plant by an American insurance company, but that they may not be able to pay because of US sanctions against Hamas. It’s a factual question of, like, what’s up with the insurance, but does the UN agree -– does the Secretariat agree with Jan Egeland that Israel should be responsible for rebuilding the power plant? 
Deputy Spokesman: ...In terms of the details of who’s paying for the insurance and all of that, I think that’s something you may want to follow-up with the agencies on the ground, or we could look into it for you. 
Question: I asked OCHA and, even though they said it, they didn’t seem to know. It would be good to know. 
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll address it to the agency on the ground."

     The answer subsequently provided, through officials who spoke only on background, is that the Gaza power plant was a joint venture between the Palestinian company Consolidated Construction Corporation, CCC, and the Houston-based Enron, and was covered by a $48 million insurance policy from the U.S. Overseas Private Insurance Corporation.

  On the afternoon of July 14, Inner City Press interviewed Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN, who stated that OPIC is the insurer, and "they have to pay." Mr. Mansour added, "Let them collect from Israel."

            An agency of the U.S. government, OPIC describes itself as "support[ing] U.S. investment in emerging markets worldwide, fostering development and the growth of free markets." The description is from the web site, which perhaps understandably does not list the Enron joint venture power plant in Gaza as one of its "project profiles," the lead one of which involves importing tea from Rwanda.

  OPIC provided insurance to Enron's Dabhol power plant in India, to other Enron power plants in Turkey and in Subic Bay in the Philippines, and other Enron projects in Argentina and Uzbekistan (a project that never came to fruition). A search on July 14, 2006, of results in only one mention of Enron, and that along with BP Amoco and ABB as being involved in renewal energy.

            The generators in the Gaza power plant were specially built by ABB, according to Jan Egeland. One of impacts of their destruction by bombs is to interrupt the flow of both water and sewage. UN's World Health Organization estimated, prior to the current crisis, that 64% of the health problems in Gaza were due to water quality.

            The officials interviewed by Inner City Press, speaking only on background, also noted that the blockade of Gaza has interrupted not only the trucking-in of gas, including for backup electricity generators, but also the flow of gas through a pipeline, through which neither people nor arms could be traveling.

            Friday at the UN, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari came to the Security Council stakeout and read a statement that "the Secretary General... reminds all of their obligations to take absolute care to spare civilian populations from harm, and to protect their life, infrastructure and livelihoods. In particular, care should also be taken to avoid damaging power stations, water supply and sanitation facilities."

            Mr. Gambari begrudgingly took a single question from the media: Inner City Press' question about the electrical power situation in Gaza. "This is about Lebanon," Mr. Gambari replied, adding before he left that the brief statement he had read was intended to help avoid a repetition in Lebanon of the bombing of the Gaza power station.

            Previously, Inner City Press asked Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman for his response to the UN's Jan Egeland's statement that Israel should repair the Gaza power plant. Amb. Gillerman responded that Israel does not intentionally target civilians, but that he has no information about Israel repairing the power plant.  Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador John Bolton if he had any comment on Jan Egeland's call for Israel to repair the power plant; Amb. Bolton said, "I have no comment on that."  Developing...

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