Inner City Press


In Other Media-e.g. Somalia, Ghana, Azerbaijan, The Gambia   For further information, click here to contact us          .

Home -

Search is just below this first article

How to Contact Us


Support this work by buying this book

Click on cover for secure site orders

also includes "Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City"

Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, Plug Is Pulled On Polisario, Access Cut by Khalilzad, Press Freedom's Day's To Come

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 -- In the ongoing politics of the UN, and those of the Western Sahara, Monday at the Security Council stakeout a representative of the Polisario Front stood in front of the camera and took questions.

   Inner City Press asked him about a statement just made by French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, that the Moroccan autonomy (but not independence) proposal was consistent with the UN-recognized right to self-determination. The response made reference to France's history as a colonial power. And then the recording of the stakeout goes dark.

At Minute 6:10, Inner City Press asks the Polisario's Ahmed Boukhari about France. At Minute 6:18 the screen goes dark.

            Tuesday at the noon briefing, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said that this had all been an error. But it remained and remains unclear exactly what happened. Sources tell Inner City Press that during the Polisario's brief on-camera stakeout, an order went out, "Cut this off... cut it." While the order was received by UNTV is the basement, where Ban Ki-moon happened to be filming messages for broadcast overseas, and while the order was eventually transmitted to the crew on the second floor by the Security Council, the order did not originate within UNTV.

   Now no one wants to say from where the order came. Fingers have been pointed, motive and opportunity have been weighed. The Polisario representative had been present at and around the stakeout throughout Monday morning, speaking to reporters, in full view of UN security and staff. That is how it should be. The Polisario's proposal for talks and a referendum, with independence as a choice, is mentioned in the Security Council's own resolution.

Western Sahara, behind the fence, no camera, "pull the plug"

            But even if by some still-not-articulated rule, the Polisario representative was not to have been filmed in front of the Security Council's banner, once the taping started, to cut it off and then mystify how it was done is bush league. It is reminiscent, in its way, to the UN's ham-handed three-week postponement of its exhibition to commemorate the Rwandan genocide, click here for that story.  To be sure the UN's side is heard, here's the noon briefing transcript on the issue:

Spokesperson:  ...We talked to the Department of Public Information about this.  They said that what happened is a mistake, and they’re sorry about it.  We also talked to DPA.  There was no order from them for anything to be cut off.  Apparently, there was confusion about the identity of the speaker.  When Mr. Ahmed Boukhari approached the mic, staff did not recognize him and were unable to identify him.  The judgement was made that the TV feed should be cut short.  And for this, we are sorry.  There is no policy of that sort.  Of course, Mr. Boukhari had the right to speak at the stakeout.  And the majority of his press encounter is now on the website.

Question:  But the question that I have for you is that, there were journalists -- myself and others -- who were asking questions.  So who made the decision to cut off the feed while questions were being asked?  It’s not that somebody was at the stakeout.  There was nobody there except UNTV.  There’s a difference between cutting something off and cutting something off for a reason.  And he was answering my questions and others.  And that is the part that upsets me. 

Spokesperson:  It was a mistake.  They took whoever told them to stop it as being someone who was authorized.

Question:  Who told them?

Spokesperson:  We don't know at this point.  We have been trying to find out who said it.  We can tell you that no one was authorized to do it.  No one. 

            And yet it happened. In an atmosphere where free speech was more established, one surmises it wouldn't have happened.

       Another step backwards this week at the UN is the refusal of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to brief the press about the Security Council's plan of work for May, when the United States holds the presidency. All recent Council presidents have held such press conferences, including the Ambassadors from South Africa, Slovakia, Qatar, Peru and Congo-Brazzaville.  At Congo's briefing, Inner City Press asked about press freedom. Nevertheless, the Republic of Congo mission held the press conference. For the U.S., which speaks so often of transparency and freedom of the press, to not even provide the access that Republic of Congo did is surprising. This week the UN is full of events about press freedom. Where things go from here remains to be seen.

Technorati Profile

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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

Search WWW Search

At the UN, Ban on the Move, Khalilzad Defers, Sahara Words, Rwanda Exhibit Still Not Visible

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

UNTIED NATIONS, April 30, updated 11:54 a.m. -- Ban Ki-moon, walking fast with a half dozen guars and his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, headed into the Trusteeship Chamber at 10:05 to make a speech about sanctions. On the way in, reporters from Inner City Press and Voice of America shook his hand and then fired off questions. The one response Ban gave concerned Iraq, or rather, he departure on May 1 for the conference at Sharm el-Sheik to launch the still ill-defined International Compact with Iraq.

            Most Security Council stakeout action concerns only timing. New U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, asked about the Council's trip to Kosovo, called it "productive," and said he'd come out and speak with reporters after the Council's meetings. Later the U.S. spokesman said whatever Khalilzad says, it will be fast, as the U.S. takes over the presidency of the Council tomorrow.

Enter Amb. Khalilzad, stage right

            The representative of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, who asked to not be taped, took issue the draft resolution "welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts" while merely "taking note" of the Polisario's proposal. "It is not balanced," he said. China's position remains, in a word, inscrutable.

[Update of 11:54 a.m. -- Amb. Khalilzad emerged and said agreement has been reached on the Western Sahara resolution. He took one question, and then on the fly a second. The Polisario representative emerged somewhat chastened, saying that "many" countries had asked why only the Morocco efforts were praised in the resolution. Inner City Pres asked him, "But will the vote be 15-0 for it?" He answered, "Yes, that's what I expect"...]

            While the postponed Rwanda genocide exhibit is supposed to finally open this evening at 6 p.m. in the UN General Assembly's south lobby, as of 9:20 a.m., nothing was being prepared in the space. Rather, there were two white boards for visitors to write what they think the UN should work on. Darfur was a theme, and the environmental, and stopping wars. Yes, that would be nice...

Somali Diplomat Questions UN's Warlord Payments, Blackhawk Down - TFG Connection Confirmed

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- The UN Security Council on Friday heard a closed-door briefing from Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin about his country's continued military presence in Somalia. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Mesfin about reports and letters showing that UN humanitarian aid has been hindered by the Transitional Federal Government, which Ethiopia installed atop the country in December.

            Surrounded by guards, Mr. Mesfin denied that the TFG or "our troops" had created obstacles, and noted that TFG Prime Minister Gedi had "the day before yesterday said that humanitarian aid is welcome."

            In an interview appearing in the Times of London on April 27, Gedi is quoted accusing UN agencies "of corruption; of using private airstrips to ship in contraband, weapons and insurgents; of striking cozy deals with warlords and the ousted Islamic Courts regime and pocketing the proceeds. He said the United Nations' World Food Program and other agencies were upset because they had lost power after effectively governing Somalia during its 15 years of civil war and anarchy. 'They want to operate in this country without any control,' he declared. 'They know they can't do that any more . . . Now there's a Prime Minister who knows them too well.'"

            Inner City Press at Friday's noon briefing asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a response:

Inner City Press: In Somalia, the Prime Minister in an interview had said that the UN aid agencies are used to running the country like it’s their own fiefdom and that they’re basically disagreeing with Mr. [John] Holmes in terms of humanitarian access.  So I'm wondering if anyone in the UN system has some response to those statements or what the status is of humanitarian access in Somalia. 

Spokesperson:  Well, according to what I got today, the discussions were good and they were given access.  And the tone was positive on the part of WFP.  

            After some other Inner City Press questions, a statement was handed to Spokesperson:

Spokesperson:  "We can find an answer for you.  And about Somalia, as far as I know, and I see the information I got there, there was a meeting about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.  The meeting was positive.  WFP was given the green light to begin deliveries, which was done.  And basically everything is working now between WFP and TFG.  According to OCHA, the UN has some 200 national and international staff in south central Somalia whose sole aim is to assist the people of that country, including in delivering urgently needed life-saving assistance.  So, the UN humanitarian agencies, which are non-political, do not aspire to enjoy power in Somalia or elsewhere, as was said in an article today."

            Later on Friday, Inner City Press interviewed Idd Beddel Mohamed, the Somali TFG's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, who said:

"The UN agencies used to serve Somalia when there was no government. Now instead of adapting, they still want to dictate terms. The UN hired warlords, paid them in dollars to protect and deliver. The warlords bought more technicals and militias. The UN agencies should not try to address the difference by talking to the media."

            Inner City Press asked him to confirm that the TFG has appointed as Police Chief one of the individuals whom the U.S. was seeking during the incident memorialized in "Blackhawk Down." Yes, he said, it is Col. Aideed (a/k/a Abdi Qaybdiid).

            The worm, as they say, has turned...

Idd Beddel Mohamed at the UN

           While the UN had earlier on Friday announced the re-appointment of Francois Lonseny Fall for another year as the UN's envoy to Somalia, Idd Beddel Mohamed said he hadn't been aware, and said: "Why isn't he in Mogadishu? Let him enjoy Nairobi, and even the beaches of Mombassa." Inner City Press asked whether minorities like the Mushinguli were included in the TFG as required by the "4.5" plan previously alluded to by Lonseny Fall. "They have the ministry of sports!" Idd Beddel Mohamed exclaimed.

 [Under "4.5," each of Somalia's four main clans are supposed to get slightly less than 25% of the posts, with 1/9th for other minorities, such as the ultimate underdogs, the Mushinguli, brought to Somalia from further South in Africa, and long denied their rights, a topic to which we will return.]

   Idd Beddel Mohamed chided Inner City Press for asking Under Secretary General John Holmes about quotes from the TFG President and deputy defense minister, saying that the quotes are just "internet propaganda." When Inner City Press pointed out that the audio source was Voice of America, Idd Beddel Mohamed replied that Voice of America's "affiliate in Mogadishu is owned by a supporter of these insurgents."

            Before he left the UN, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin pronounced that "the backbone of the terrorists has been completely shattered"  but that a different message gets out, because they have "a wide network globally."

            Who are you going to believe? For now, the UN and Security Council appear to continue to cast their lot with the TFG, despite warnings. Or is the European Commission's warning about war crimes and complicity just "internet propaganda"? We will continue to cover this.

UN's Holmes "Condemns" Reported Somali TFG Statements, While Withholding Documents

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- The Somali Transitional Federal Government, which relies for its legitimacy on the UN, yesterday told the UN that aid workers will have "unimpeded access" to serve those people fleeing the TFG's shelling of Mogadishu.

            In New York, Inner City Press asked UN humanitarian chief John Holmes what the UN's response has been to two sample statements, by TFG president Yusuf that civilian neighborhoods can be shelled, and by TFG defense official Salad Ali Jeele, that certain clans and sub-clans in Mogadishu need to be exterminated (click here for that).

            Mr. Holmes responded that "the statements you've quoted, I would condemn them utterly." Video here, from minute 35:13.

            Inner City Press asked about the letter which it obtained and reported on April 20 in which TFG Minister for Interior Mohamed Mohamoud Guled wrote to the UN World Food Program that

"It's TFG decision that there will be no food distribution can take place anywhere in Somalia without being inspected and approved by the government. Hence UN agencies and any other organization that is planning to bring any relief to Somalia should submit the documents for the goods before shipment for checkup."

            This letter from the Transitional Federal Government to the WFP was cc-ed to the Somali National Refugee Commission, through which Inner City Press is told the TFG had been saying all aid must flow. Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Holmes said, "I have no information on that particular organization." That might be a problem.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Yusuf

            Prior to Mr. Holmes' briefing, WFP told Inner City Press the following:

Subject: Somalia

From: [WFP Spokesperson]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 6:09 PM

Hi Matthew,  there were talks between the UN and TFG today. Here's a short update, from Peter Goossens, WFP Country director Somalia:

"The talk between the UN and a TFG commission led by the Heath Minister were positive. The TFG will issue a statement on the outcome. We hope that we will from now on be allowed to use any airstrip in Somalia to bring in humanitarian assistance. We also need to see on the ground that we are now allowed to bring that assistance urgently to those most in need, particularly those displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu."

            Tuesday Mr. Holmes said essentially the same thing. However, when asked if any documents could be provided -- the letter from UN Humanitarian Coordinator Eric Laroche, or the above-referenced TFG statement -- Mr. Holmes said only that "I'll look into that, if we can provide you chapter and verse." Ten hours later, no documents had been provided. It's not "chapter and verse" -- it's basic documents about what Mr. Holmes is calling the world's most dangerous for aid workers. Silence doesn't help; silence is consent. Developing...

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on --

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] - phone: (718) 716-3540