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UN Envoy Makes Excuses for Gambian Strongman, Whitewashing Fraud- and Threat-Filled Election

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 7 -- In the Gambian election last month, thousands of non-Gambians from Senegal were brought in to vote by President Yahya Jammeh, it was admitted Friday by Kofi Annan's envoy to the election, former Nigerian General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

          Jammeh recently said, "If I want to ban any newspaper, I will."  Interviewed by Inner City Press on the 35th floor of the UN Headquarters on Friday, just after he briefed Kofi Annan, Gen. Abubakar was dismissive of reports of Jammeh's crackdown on the press, including his reported involvement in the killing of the editor of The Point newspaper. Jammeh's denial in that case was that "I don't believe in killing people, I believe in locking you up for the rest of your life."

Gen & S-G on 38

            Asked by Inner City Press about these and other Jammeh quotes, Gen. Abubaker was dismissive. "Jammeh can say he'll rule for the next thirty or forty years, but he could be voted out," Gen. Abubaker said.

      Gen. Abubakar acknowledged the criticism by Gambian opposition groups and the Commonwealth observers of security personnel voting while in uniform, but stated that this is permitted by the Gambian Constitution.

      Asked by Inner City Press about Yahya Jammeh's changes to the constitution, Gen. Abubakar said that people are entitled to their own opinions. Democracy, he said, is in the developing world a "sensitive matter" that must be "done with caution."  He stated that the elections had gone "very well... I was there on election day and from what I saw it was peaceful."

            Yahya Jammeh took power in 1994 in The Gambia, a country of 1.5 million people surrounded on three sides by Senegal. Industries include peanut farming and some tourism. In an interview with Inner City Press on September 21, 2006, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frazer said that the Jammeh regime is reaching out for help to China, Iran and Venezuela. Friday Inner City Press asked UN Envoy Gen. Abubaker about this. Gen. Abubaker responded by quoting Jammeh, if you don't have to be my friend, you can't stop me from having other friends.

            Asked by Inner City Press what his recommendations are, and what the UN will do, Gen. Abubaker first listed the need for better training of journalists. Perhaps a stop to the killing of journalists and editors would help. One wonders why Kofi Annan selected this Nigerian general, who ruled after Sani Abacha, as the UN envoy to the preordained re-election of Yahya Jammeh. One wonders what instructions Gen. Abubaker was given. After changing the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term, and after threatening districts that voted against him with losing development aid, he won garnered 67% of votes, to Oussainou Darboe's 27%, with voter turnout below 60%. This includes the votes of non-Gambians brought in from Senegal's still-troubled Casamance region, an influx that Gen. Abubaker put at "only" four thousand.

            When asked if there was outside influence on the Gambian election, Gen. Abubaker said no, despite his statement about thousands of non-Gambians voting. "It wouldn't have changed the result," Gen. Abubaker said. Apparently, nothing would have.

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Sudan's UN Envoy Admits Right to Intervene in Rwanda, UNICEF Response on Terrorist Groups in Pakistan

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

  UNITED NATIONS, October 6 -- Sudan's ambassador to the UN on Friday acknowledged the right of the international community to intervene without governmental consent in a situation like Rwanda in 1994. In response to a question from Inner City Press about Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia under Pol Pot, Sudanese Amb. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem mentioned the UN Millennium Declaration and the duty "to protect," while seeking to distinguish "orderly" Sudan from Rwanda. Video on UNTV from Minute 10:12,

Amb. Abdalhaleem: Rwanda yes, Darfur no

            Inner City Press also asked the Sudanese Ambassador about reports of his government sabotaging military equipment en route to the African Union force in Darfur, including the statements of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frazer about bolts being removed from armored personnel carriers and the AMIS force commander having to wait in Ethiopia while a visa to enter Sudan was delayed.

            Amb. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem called these "minor matters" and said that "bureaucratic delay is bureaucratic delay." He said that Inner City Press and the other media present could get visas for Sudan and Darfur anytime. Since journalists have been locked up by Sudan, and many have their computers' hard drives scanned and copies as they enter or leave Sudan, the invitation may mean less than it sounded like at the stakeout. Video on UNTV from Minutes 7:43.

            Also at the UN on Friday, following an upbeat press conference by George H.W. Bush and a minister from Pakistan to mark the one year anniversary of the South Asia earthquake, Inner City Press asked the UN's spokesman about a BBC expose of aid money going to terrorists groups -- click here to view. BBC has reported that the Al Rashid Trust and Jamaat ud-Dawa were not strong in the area before the quake hit, but set up camps and were inflated by the flowing of aid to those in "their" camps.  Inner City Press asked (video on UNTV from Minute 13:50), what safeguards do UN agencies have to avoid such consequences while seeking to deliver clearly-needed aid? While Inner City Press' questions remaining pending about Somalia, UNICEF on Friday responded about Pakistan:

Is UNICEF cooperating with Al Rashid?

No. UNICEF does not cooperate with Al Rashid, and nor is UNICEF money or material supplied to Al Rashid. Children have a right to education, no matter where they live, just as they have a right to immunization no matter where they live. The NGO DOSTI is an NGO which had the capacity to deliver educational services to 5300 children affected by the earthquake. Some of these children live in Al Rashid camps, through no fault of their own. DOSTI fulfilled its obligation by establishing a school in three such camps. The use of UNICEF material and the educational activities it supports are carefully monitored  by UNICEF. To suggest that the rights of children who have lost their homes and schools should be ignored because by chance they are living in a particular location, would contravene the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which the Netherlands is  signatory. (FYI information the schools and the camp we referred to doesn't exist anymore. The only camp remaining in Mansehra is Jaba camp) The organization Jamaat [u]d Dawa is running 2 schools in Mansehra and UNICEF is not providing any support to this organization. Another question you might have is whether UNICEF cooperating with any individual/organization included in the UN  list of banned individual / organizations. The answer is: No. UNICEF has no contract/agreement  with individuals or organization included in this list and nor is UNICEF money or material supplied to these organizations / individuals.

            We report, ask and get answers, you decide. UNICEF has been asked about its Somali operations, developing.

Also on Friday at the UN:

U.S. Calls for Annan and Ban Ki-moon to Publicly Disclose Finances, As U.S. Angles for 5-Year WFP Appointment

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

  UNITED NATIONS, October 6 -- Secretary General Kofi Annan, who only after delay and indecision filed a financial disclosure form on September 22, is now being asked to make the financial contents public. Mr. Annan's spokesman Friday at noon said that since the UN is an "inter-governmental organization" rather than a government, the Secretary-General's disclosure should remain private, until the General Assembly requires otherwise.  Video on UNTV from Minute 10:35.

            An hour later, Inner City Press asked Ambassador John Bolton for the U.S. position. "I'm sure Congress will be interested in that response," Amb. Bolton said. Video on UNTV from Minute 7:45.

            In response to an Inner City Press question Friday morning on whether the incoming Secretary-General, presumptively Ban Ki-moon, should disclosure his finances on the way in -- possibly before the General Assembly vote -- Ambassador Bolton signaled agreement, saying that "transparency" is good, that as with preventive diplomacy, the UN system does not engage enough in transparency. Video on UNTV from Minutes 7:15.

Agreeing to disclose or not? S-G/Ban Ki-Moon

            Beyond the U.S. Mission's continued withholding of information in its possession about UN officials receiving free housing from governments -- the U.S. spokesman says there are eight such UN officials while Kofi Annan's spokesman has said there is only one, without providing the name -- there is a emerging issue on which neither the UN nor the U.S. is practicing transparency.  As first reported by Inner City Press, the U.S. has put forward Josette Sheeran (Shiner) for a five year term as executive director of the UN's World Food Program. While Amb. Bolton has previously said that Kofi Annan should not appoint any new official past the end of the year, when asked by Inner City Press if the U.S. wants Josette Sheeran (Shiner) to be given a five year term right away, Amb. Bolton responded that "there is precedent for that."

            Friday the UN spokesman told Inner City Press that the selection process, and giving of a five year terms, is now expected to be completed in "early November," less than two months before Mr. Annan's term ends. Despite U.S. Amb. Bolton's previous statements about lame duck appointment, presumably the U.S. would not object if the American Josette Sheeran (Shiner) is the beneficiary of a five year lame duck appointment. In terms of transparency, Inner City Press on October 3 asked the UN spokesman's office:

Yesterday you confirmed that Secretary-General will be making the selection
of the next WFP executive director, in conjunction with the head of FAO. You stated that the "normal procedures" would be followed. Please elaborate on the "normal procedures." Specifically, Is there a selection panel?  Who is on the selection panel?  Is there a shortlist? How many names are on the shortlist?  Did the selection panel develop the shortlist, or are they only interviewing candidates on the shortlist? What is the timeframe for the selection?  Will this process be completed within October, November, or December? In previous cases of senior appointments (such as the chief of UNHCR), the  UN announced the shortlist prior to the actual selection of Mr. Guterres.  Was that "normal procedure"?  In this case will the UN announce the shortlist?  When?

            Three days later on October 6, the spokesman handed Inner City Press a page with a paragraph on it:

"Nominations were solicited from Member States and an advertisement was placed in The Economist. The deadline for the submission of nominations was 15 September 2006. A joint UN/FAO Panel met in Rome on 28 and 29 September to review the applications received with a view to drawing up a short list of candidates for the consideration of the Secretary-General and Director-General of FAO. The short-listed candidates will be interviewed in New York in the near future by a join UN/FAO panel comprising representatives from each side. The Panel is expected to identify two or three finalists for the Secretary-General's the Director-General's consideration. The Secretary-General and the Director-General would thereafter interview the candidates and jointly make a decision on the individual they would wish to appoint to the post. They would then jointly inform the WFP Executive Board accordingly and await their response before making the appointment public. The process should normally be completed by early November."

    Among other things, this does not answer whether the identities of the candidates on the shortlist will be made public. On Thursday, the Canadian government through an individual who because he is not a spokesman asked not to be named told Inner City Press that while Canada has not nominated its WFP Ambassador Robert Fowler, he is in fact a candidate. As to who will conduct the interviews, as early as next week, Inner City Press' sources indicate that it will be Mark Malloch-Brown. The propriety of the Annan administration considering a five-year appointment with only two months left in office has not been addressed. Developing.

UN's Annan Dodges Danger and Set-Backs in Gabon, Malabo, Geneva, Tibet, Sudan, Disclosure Form Also for Successor?

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

   UNITED NATIONS, October 5 -- Two non-events in Geneva were downplayed by the UN on Thursday. Amid reports of a threat against the UN's Palais des Nations building, Gabon's president Omar Bongo cancelled a negotiating meeting involving Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the leader of Equatorial Guinea to discuss disputed islands thought to be oil-rich.

Mr. Annan in Gabon, March 2006

   With Bongo a no-show, Mr. Annan did not travel to Geneva. In New York, his spokesman downplayed both the threat and the Gabonese setback. Inner City Press asked:

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on Gabon not showing up for this meeting about the island that it has a dispute over, with Equatorial Guinea?

Spokesman:  This is an issue the Secretary-General has been working on for quite some time, the territorial dispute between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.  The meeting I think that you are referring to had not been officially announced by us.

            But AP of September 29 had reported:

"Kofi Annan will meet with the presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next week to try to resolve a dispute between the two nations over control of several islands in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea. The talks between Gabon's President Omar Bongo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea will take place Oct. 2-4 in Geneva, said Marie Heuze, director of the U.N. information service in Geneva."

            So does Mr. Annan's spokesman's "us" not include statements by his counterpart in Geneva, the director of the UN information service there? The attempt seems to be to downplay difficulties in Mr. Annan's final three months in office. Earlier in the year, the UN's in-house News Service of February 27 gushed that

"Hailing the Presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for showing 'incredible flexibility' toward resolving a border dispute, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said today that the two leaders were determined to resolve the issue before the end of the year. Mr. Annan hosted a mini-summit between President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea in Geneva this morning and said both leaders had 'agreed to press ahead with immediate negotiations on the delimitation of their maritime and land borders. They showed incredible flexibility, good will and determination to press ahead and resolve this issue in the next few months and definitely before the end of the year,' Mr. Annan told the press after the meeting. 'I think it will be important for them to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and it will also be a good message for the continent, a continent wracked by conflicts and tensions, that two leaders come together and resolve their differences very, very peacefully.'"

            That Africa is wracked by conflicts is undisputable. Also at Thursday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked, about the Ivory Coast, if the UN had any response to Laurent Gbabgo's political party's threat to retaliate against citizens of countries which suggest that he hold an election or leave power.  The spokesman paused as a written statement was carried into the briefing room, which he then read out:

"The Secretary-General deplores the inflammatory remarks made on 2 October by the President of the Front Populaire Ivoirien, Affi Nguessan, which contained threats against citizens of other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) living in Cote d'Ivoire. The Secretary-General calls on all Ivorian political leaders and their followers to exercise the utmost restraint at this critical juncture and stresses that those instigating or committing violent acts will be held personally responsible by the international community.  He also emphasizes the responsibility of the Ivorian Defense and Security Forces to protect the civilian population including ECOWAS citizens as well as other foreigners residing in Cote d'Ivoire.  The Secretary-General urges the Ivorian leaders to pursue dialogue and work with ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to break the current impasse and agree on new transitional arrangements that should lead to elections."

            The UN's prepared transcript of Thursday briefing omits the question, and puts the statement as the lead item in the briefing, when it was the last item. Compare to the video, available on the UN's web site and here. It is good for Kofi Annan to have a statement ready on human rights issues. But why then no response, at noon nor by close of business, to reports that China has shot and killed at least two Tibetans seeking to flee into Nepal?  At noon Inner City Press asked:

Question:  There are reports, including on BBC, that China has shot people trying to flee Tibet into Nepal?  I don’t know if either the Secretariat or UNHCR can confirm it, perhaps later today, and also what UNHCR’s position is on Nepal’s treatment of people fleeing Tibet, whether they are in fact…

Spokesman:  I have not seen these reports, but we can put you in touch with UNHCR and see what they have to say on that.

            UNHCR has said nothing, even now.

Tibet per UNHCR

   In fact, UNHCR has not responded to a request for information, four days ago, about a pending deportation-for-torture to Uzbekistan nor about UNHCR's activities and contacts in Somalia. AndMr. Annan, in dodging comment on Gabon's Bongo's pulling-out of the meeting also neglected to comment on Bongo's shut-down of a news publication for three months for daring to report on the island dispute and Bongo's attempt, flexible or corrupt, to sell the island. At the UN, particularly these days, there's an attempt by many to focus only on the good news, on the most Polyanna interpretation.

            At the Security Council stakeout, for example, the Ambassador of Greece was asked for his response to the Sudanese mission's letter rejecting any UN peacekeepers in Darfur, and his response was to ignore the letter, says that Sudanese President Al-Bashir had said nothing marginally less combative. Many reporters shook their heads. One wag muttered, "Everything's okay in Darfur, then."  Another correspondent inquired into the platters of food being carried into the Security Council: "Can't deal with Darfur on an empty stomach, right?"  The spokesman quickly clarified that the food was for a Slovakian side event in the Security Council area.

            In the UN General Assembly, in the basement, contradictory testimony continued on Western Sahara. At day's end, with yet more witnesses to go on the Polisario Front, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative said on the record that "the United Kingdom does not believe that the principle of territorial integrity is applicable to the decolonialization of Gibraltar."

            On the integrity front, it is anticipated that beyond the after-shocks to the right, Friday at the UN the calls for Mr. Annan's long-delayed financial disclosure to be made public will grow, not despite but in part in furtherance of the precedent it would set. Developing...

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