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As Fowler Invited Himself to Niger, Did He Create His Own UN Mandate in Niger?

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 19 -- As Niger's president failed to mention Robert Fowler, among other things the UN's envoy to the country, in his 50th anniversary speech, it emerged that Fowler had invited himself to the celebration, before going mission on an unauthorized trip to a Canadian-owned gold mine. At the UN in New York, Inner City Press for the fourth day in a row asked for an explanation of Fowler's now-confirmed trip to the gold mine.  UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe said "on the mines, we just have nothing for you on that."

  But it has now been reported that "Niger's Communications Minister Mohamed ben Omar said Fowler had requested an invitation from the authorities to attend Niger's 50th anniversary celebrations held yesterday."  That is, it was Fowler who requested to travel to Niger, and then visited a Canadian-owned gold mine. Many now speculate that Fowler was, at least on this trip, using the UN, its Laissez Passer and other benefits, for some other purpose. Others even speculate that just as Fowler reported requested an invitation from Niger to enter ostensibly for a celebration, he or Canada requested Ban Ki-moon to give him the mandate as a UN special envoy to Niger.

UN previously in Niger, Fowler's murky mission not shown

   In part to try to disprove this logical theory, at Friday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press:  An official in Niger has been quoted that Mr. Fowler’s trip was official, but that 'we were not aware of his trip out of town to the Samira gold mine.'  So I want to... now it’s pretty clear that the gold mine… it’s confirmed that he visited.  The United Nations has said that he went to the gold mine.  How can you describe a trip to a country where on official business, where there’s a side trip to a Canadian-named gold mine in a UNDP vehicle?  Was he going to reimburse the UN for the car?  What was the UN… or are envoys expected to inform the UN when they go on private business?  And what is your understanding of that business?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:  Matthew, I think on this subject we really don’t have anything further that we can report publicly.  The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Niger, Mr. Fowler, was in Niger in his official capacity.  He was on official mission, as we repeated to you a number of times, and we just simply cannot comment or release information which may compromise our efforts and jeopardize the safety of Mr. Fowler, Mr. Guay and the driver.  And on the specific point that you mention on the mines, we just have nothing for you on that.  And as you know we are working very hard on this matter and the Secretary-General should be speaking with the President of Niger shortly.

Inner City Press: Can you just say generally, putting aside this situation, when UN envoys go to a country, is there some… how do they inform the UN if they’re going to do some business that’s their own business or their country’s business?  Is it expected that they will tell the UN: “Look, this is what I’m going to do in the country”?

Spokesperson: Obviously, there are terms of reference for a special envoy when he visits a country, and the objectives are laid out and there are reporting channels established.

Inner City Press: Are the terms of reference of Mr. Fowler’s mandate and of this mission public or not public?

Spokesperson:  They are not public.

Question:  What resources has the UN shifted to Niger to assist in the investigation?  Are people going?

Spokesperson:  Without getting into too much detail, again, we have mobilized a team on site, and they’re working very closely with the Niger authorities.  And we appreciate their cooperation and we are working very closely with them.

Question:  You say a team?  Are you going to want to say any more about how many are in the team, where they came from, are they security people here from New York or what?

Spokesperson:  I can’t get into any details on that.  It’s just to let you know that we are working very hard on this matter.

Question:  Just to confirm -- I know you commented yesterday -- as of now there’s been no contact, no one’s claimed, made any claims, asked for anything, just the mystery sort of continues just as it was the first day?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  (Video here, from Minute 10:45.)

    Inner City Press was told by a senior Secretariat official that Ban Ki-moon spoke to Niger's president; other officials told Inner City Press to stop reporting on this issue, since it might somehow impact "Mr. Fowler's insurance."  An anonymous letter reiterated that reporting on these matters should stop. But we're yet to be convinced that would help.

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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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