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At UN, Downer Says Anti-Obama Op-Ed Has No Effect on Cyprus Work with U.S., Coal Role

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 9 -- Alexander Downer, alongside being the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, works for the consultancy Bespoke Approach, serves as a director of Hong Kong based mining firm ResourceHouse and its China First coal, and writes op-eds, most recently saying Barrack Obama should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  Inner City Press asked Downer on December 9 if this op-ed had any effect on his discussion for the UN with Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom he met about Cyprus on December 8. Downer laughed and said, "Of course not! No such thing was discussed." Video here, from Minute 8:32.

  But the question isn't whether Hillary Clinton brought up the op-ed: it's whether it has any impact of Downer's effectiveness for the UN on the Cyprus issue. Another correspondent pointed out that Downer had offered the Press nearly exactly the same upbeat assessment of the talks back in May. Has any progress been made?

  Previously, Inner City Press has asked Downer and the UN what safeguards are in place to avoid any conflict of interest between Downer's work for the consultancy Bespoke Approach and his UN role. Downer scoffed that Cyprus doesn't have much business. But of course, Turkey and Greece have a stake in Cyprus, and both have big business. In fact, while KKR lists Bespoke Approach as an Easter affiliate, KKR has business interests in Turkey. So where are the safeguards?

  Downer is also on the board of directors of ResourceHouse, which is raising funds for a China director coal mine in Australia. Inner City Press asked Downer, in this light, to comment on the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

  Downer against laughed, saying that his Cyprus role does not involve climate change.  How about his China First Coal role?

Downer at stakeout, round and round, hook not shown

  Ironically, in a press conference the same day the head of UN peacekeeping argued that all UN peacekeeping mission are impacted by climate change. But Downer, without responding to the question about China First Coal, said that his personal hope is that the negotiations succeed. And that an $2.25 will get you on the subway in New York: appointments with Bespoke Approach cost more. Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN's force commander in Cyprus is slated to be changed in the Spring of 2010. A question at the stakeout about Slovakia's public claim to be lobbying for the position yielded no answer, except that the process takes place in New York. We will follow this.

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As Sudan Claims "Unrelenting Backing" of UN's Ban, Spokesman Snarks, Dodges

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- Indicted war criminal Omar al Bashir received the "unrelenting backing" of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a December 6 phone call, Sudanese media has reported.

  Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's new spokesman Martin Nesirky about this call and characterization, among other questions on December 7, his first day. Video here, from Minute 16:08.

  Mr. Nesirky said that Ban's call was "purely on humanitarian grounds," about two UN hostages in Sudan. He acknowledged that the appointment of Ibrahim Gambari as the UN's and African Union's envoy to Sudan was also discussed. So how, some wondered, can the call be legitimately characterized as "purely" humanitarian?

  Inner City Press asked about advise by the UN's own Office of Legal Affairs, that Ban avoid Bashir since his indictment by the International Criminal Court. Nesirky that it is "right" that their was advice to retain a distance, but this was "purely humanitarian." He confirmed that it was the first call from Ban to Bashir since the ICC indictment.

  Pressed about the Sudan's state media's quote of Ban's "unrelenting backing" of Bashir, Nesirky snarked, to some refreshingly, "Listen to me, not the Sudanese media."

  His other answers were less clear. Inner City Press asked if Darfur envoy designate Gambari, in his December 7 speech in Nigeria about that country's leadership, was speaking for the UN, or being paid that day by the UN. Nesirky said during the briefing he would look into it, and reiterated later on Monday that an answer was in the works. But after the lid was called, after 7 p.m. no answer had arrived.

UN's Ban and Bashir in 2008, still "unrelenting" backing?

  Inner City Press asked if the UN joined the call by ECOWAS that the military junta in Guinea must leave power. Nesirky responded with a statement of concern, but no direct response to the regional ECOWAS position. On the Secretariat's withdrawal of its human resources proposal for "continuing" rather than permanent contracts, Nesirky said he'd respond later.

  On the UN's Congo Experts' report, which links the UN Mission in the Congo with murderous former rebel units of the Congo's army, Nesirky said "ask the expert," who in fact claims to be independent from the UN. The expert brought a Secretariat employee, who refused to answer but rather passed notes to the Expert. So much for independence. Click here for that, and watch this site.

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UN's Congo Expert Covers Up for MONUC, Chides Press He Was With Under Other Name

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- The coordinator of the ostensibly independent UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo appeared in the UN briefing room on Monday to criticize the Press for focusing on portions of the Experts' report which show the UN working with murderous former rebels engaged in Congo mining. Video here.

  Even before the press conference, Dinesh Mahtani on December 4 declined to answer on the record Inner City Press' questions about the UN's role in providing logistical support to units of the Congolese army which were until recently the rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda and indicted war criminal Jean Bosco Ntanganda.

  In a large conference call at the German Mission to the UN, filled with an audience of several dozen, Mahtani said "I can't speak on the record," and referred Inner City Press to his press conference on Monday. Dinesh was introduced, by former head of UN Peacekeeping Jean Marie Guehenno, as having been a journalist in the past. Guehenno also declined to answer questions.

  Three days later, when Mahtani took to the UN's rostrum accompanied by an employee of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, he emphasized that the Group is independent. He criticized press accounts of his report, previously leaked to Reuters, BBC and others in Kinshasa, which emphasized on the findings against the UN.

  He said the report, now available online here, is mostly about two groups, the FDLR and the CNDP, that latter of which has become a part of the Congolese army. The UN's Mission in the Congo, MONUC, provides logistical support to these former CNDP units, for example one led by Innocent Zimurinda, who identified as Zimulinda is charged by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston with murder and multiple rapes.

  Inner City Press asked Mahtani if he believes the UN should be working for example with these "Innocent" units. Mahtani replied that his report mentions Zimurinda several times. But should the UN be working with him?

  From there, things got more surreal. Mahtani told one long time wire service correspondent that her question was "strange." Dinesh Mahtani, as it happens, reported from Kinshasa for Reuters, under the name Dino Mahtani. Why so defensive?

In Bunia, mine awareness- land mine, that is, Experts not shown

  Mahtani also defended China, which is named in the report as flying in weapons without accounting for them to the UN Sanctions Committee. Defending itself is the company Niotan, identified as a wrong-doer in the report: it claims it has another name, Refractory Metals Mining Company Limited. Sort of like Zimulina and a certain Mahtani... To be continued.

Footnote: the Report at paragraph 119 zeroes in on a Western Union transfer to "the program manager of the Ahadi Institute, Edison Bashimbe Nshombo [whose wife] reportedly administers medical treatment to wounded FDLR in the region." But, hat tip CanWest, the Ahadi Institute has as a supporter the UN's own UNESCO, click here for that, and watch this site.

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As Congo's Gold Hits 60 Minutes, UN Is Let Off Hook, Wal-Mart's 10% Solution

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 29 -- The Congo's conflict gold was the subject of a fifteen minute feature tonight on the American television program Sixty Minutes. A former rebel said he used collected gold to buy weapons and ammunition from the Congolese army. A woman said she was raped by men in Army uniforms.

  Sixty Minutes accepted UN escort and showed a UN camp, but neglected to mention that the UN now provides logistical support to the Congolese army, which beyond weapon sales and rape has been documented for the mass murder of civilians, by the UN's own special rapporteur and experts.

  But the UN's top envoy to the Congo Alan Doss has told Inner City Press there is not enough evidence, and has yet to act on Special Rapporteur Philip Alston's report detailing mass rape by Congo's Army. (Click here for coverage of Congo trip by Inner City Press.)

  Rather than at least mention this perversion of the UN's peacekeeping mandate, Sixty Minute showed a UN camp to which 13,000 internally displaced people fled. Bags of flour and beans and cooking oil were distributed on the day of filming, for the first time in five months.

  Neither Sixty Minutes nor the two non governmental organizations which appeared on screen, HRW and the Enough Project, explained the starvation just outside a UN camp.

UN's Ban and Doss in Congo, continuing support of rogue Army units not shown

  The point of the show was that just as conflict diamonds were focused on seven years ago, conflict gold now cries out for action.

  Sixty Minutes said without explanation that the UN tries to stem the flow of conflict gold. But if the UN is supporting Army units which rape, kill and sell weapons, and which themselves control mines, how is the UN trying to stop the flow?

Footnote: Back in the U.S., Sixty Minutes quotes Tiffany's as identifying the source of nearly all of its gold -- in Utah -- while Wal-Mart will only say that it will track the source of 10 percent of its gold by next year. If it were rap music with profanity, Wal-Mart would take action. But conflict gold from the Congo? Ten percent sourcing, maybe, by next year...

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IMF Murky on Angola's Oil, Bond and China Deals, Doles Out $1.4 Billion

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 25 -- Days after announcing a $1.4 billion arrangement with Angola, the International Monetary Fund held a press conference call to offer explanations. At the end, things were murkier than before. Inner City Press asked if the IMF had been able to fully assess the income and distribution of revenue from the state owned oil company Sonangol.

  The IMF's Lamine Leigh, who led the Fund's missions to Angola in August and September, replied that "in the context of our negotiations, Sonangol participated fairly well." Inner City Press asked, since Sonangol has accounts in off shore financial centers and tax havens, if the IMF had gotten to the bottom of these accounts.

  After a long pause, Lamine Leigh proffered another answer, that the government has "committed to steps in the more general area of resource revenue transparency." But what about the Sonangol accounts?

Oil in Angola, Sonangol's accounts not shown

  Inner City Press asked about the statement by IMF Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair Takatoshi Kato that in Angola "measures will be taken to strengthen further the regulatory and supervisory framework." The IMF's Senior Advisor on Africa Sean Nolan replied that the IMF analyzed the effect of the exchange rate on borrowers and "on the banks."

  In fact, Angola's government has gotten billions in pre-export oil loans from, for example, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank. The latter has made similar loans in Turkmenistan, assailed by transparency and human rights advocates. How much of the IMF's new arrangement benefits these banks?

  In fact, the questioner after Inner City Press, cutting off follow up, was from Standard Bank. Other than Inner City Press, the only other media questioner was from Reuters.

  Before the call ended, Inner City Press was able to ask about Angola's reported $4 billion bond sale planned for December. Sean Nolan said that the IMF's "understanding" with Angola does involve a "fundraising effort," but that the timing was not agreed to, the IMF does not "micromanage" to that extent. Nolan added that there is an agreement on an "overall limit."

  "Is it four billion dollars?" Inner City Press asked.

  Nolan replied that the precise limit will be "clear in the documents," which have yet to be released. Why play hide the ball?

 Nolan praised the country for "appointing reputable financial and legal advisers for the transaction" -- JPMorgan Chase will be the manager.

  Nolan continued that the actual size of the bond sale will depend on how much "concessionary lending" Angola gets from "countries with a strong record of financial support to Angola."

  Inner City Press asked if the size of China's loans to Angola -- China gets 16% of its foreign oil from Angola -- were known by the IMF or considered.

  "That hasn't figured in our discussions," the IMF's Nolan responded. Why not? Watch this site.

* * *

On Food Speculation, UN's Expert Says Nothing's Being Done, S. Korean Land Grabs from Madagascar to Sudan, Brazil on Ethanol

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 21 -- After many speeches at the UN about the need to crack down on financial speculation in food, nothing has been done, the UN's expert on the right to food told Inner City Press on Wednesday.

  Olivier de Schutter, a Belgian law professor just back from a visit to Brazil about, among other things, the loss of land for food to ethanol, replied that "nothing is moving at the inter-governmental level." This despite a statement by the G-20 in April favoring the regulation of hedge funds which present systemic risk. The argument is that commodities index funds which speculate in food present systemic risk to net food importing countries. But nothing has been done.

   De Schutter spoke about the monopolization of the seed industry, and made a slew of recommendations for governments. The three top monopolizers -- Monsanto, Dupont and the Swiss-based Syngenta -- are all members of the UN Global Compact, and claim to comply with human rights. De Schutter pointed out the antitrust law is directed as national and not global or subnational markets. It is all very heady but one wonders what effect it has.

  Brazil might be one of de Schutter's claims to impact. He spoke glowingly of President Lula, saying that Brazil has said that only 19% of land can be used for sugar cane for ethanol, and has committed to monitor labor rights. But what about, for example, Indonesia and Malaysia?

De Schutter, action on food speculation not shown

  After De Schutter's briefing, Inner City Press asked his staffer for an update on the proposed land grab in Madagascar by South Korea based Daewoo, which was reputed after the coup in that country. De Schutter had been scheduled to visit, but it was put off by the coup. The same thing happened in Honduras. So perhaps De Schutter does have an effect after all, mused one wag.

Footnote: immediately after De Schutter's briefing, the UN's Haile Menkerios was scheduled to speak to the Press about Madagascar. While the UN usually compartmentalizes its work such that a rapporteur looks at land grabs, while the Secretariat remains on "political affairs" narrowly defined, this land grab played a role in the change of government. Now it's said the South Korean deal is being pursued from India, while South Korea appears to have moved on to 690,000 hectares in Sudan. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

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

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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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