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Rwanda's Kagame Refutes UNDP Report and Criticism of Darfur General, on Stakeout Technique

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 27 -- Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, emerging onto the second floor of UN headquarters from his meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stopped to speak with two reporters about two controversies. Asked about the UN Development Program report, issued on July 26, which criticized Rwanda for spending too much on its military, President Kagame scoffed, "I do not understand. We need to spend on our security. That has not undermined development, but enhanced it."

            After Kagame's government made its objections known, Inner City Press asked the UN's spokesperson about it on August 24, without answer (click here for transcript), then on September 14 asked UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert about it. Melkert said that sometimes governments oppose anything that makes them look bad, even if it's true. Melkert stood behind the UNDP report, even as UNDP's country team in Rwanda moved to disavow and supplement the report.

            Inner City Press asked about the Rwandan general becoming deputy force commander of peacekeepers in Darfur, Karenzi Karake, who was accused by some of war crimes. "That was a bit of fuss," President Kagame said. "When it comes to Rwanda, there are those who are under the influence of those who made Rwanda known for bad things." Both reporters immediately recognized this as a reference to France, which Kagame has accused of supporting the Hutu genocidaires in 1994, and in which a judge is investigating Kagame for a possible role in the shoot-down of then-President Habyarimana's plane in April 1994.

            In this speech before the General Assembly, Kagame said that

"Today in the Great Lakes Region, forces that committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994 continue their destructive operations... Their leaders are active in Europe, America and Africa... The presence of the costly UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not diminished their activities."

            Alongside this bleak presentation, "Rwanda has emerged," President Kagame told the two reporters on Thursday night, as an example for all of Africa. The duo thanked him for this time, and he proceeded north along the UN's second floor, with an entourage of six.

Paul Kagame and UN's Ban Ki-moon, controversial UNDP report not shown

            This method of interviewing was perfected this week by radio journalist Bessan Vikou of BBC Afrique. Vikou, as he is known, tells Inner City Press that in the first three days of the current General Debate, he has interviewed eight heads of state as they descended from meeting with Ban Ki-moon on the 38th floor. "It would have been nine if I had gotten Kabila," president of the DRC, Vikou said. "They get off on the second floor and there's no where they can go. I tell them 'BBC! BBC!' and they almost always stop. It is even more likely when I am with another journalist, like now."

            The impromptu interview with President Kagame was a joint venture between Vikou and Inner City Press. Vikou made the first approach, with his patented BBC call-out; the UNDP question came from Inner City Press, which closely covers the UN's development agencies. Previously this teamwork was deployed at the Slovakian Ambassadors residence, in a joint interview of since-retired French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere. In that instance Vikou, who subsequently  named, sacrificed himself by taking de la Sabliere's stream of half-chewed peanuts in the face, in order to ask about Cote d'Ivoire. If there was battle medals in journalism, that level of commitment merits one.

            Cote d'Ivoire was also the topic on Wednesday night at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where Vikou, Inner City Press and a half-dozen other journalists waited nearly an hour for a rare press conference by president Laurent Gbagbo, which ended up conflicting with the DRC's Kabila's descent from this meeting with Ban Ki-moon. Vikou asked about Gbagbo's call to end sanctions against three Ivorians, the process of identifying qualified voters, and how taxes are and will be collected. Inner City Press asked about the selection of the UN's envoy to Abidjan, the investigation of peacekeepers and Gbagbo's interactions with the Security Council, of which France has the presidency this month. Click here for Inner City Press' Gbagbo story, here for follow-up with France's Bernard Kouchner.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540