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William Swing Sings Songs of Congo's Crisis, No Safeguards on Coltan Says Chairman of Intel

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

   UNITED NATIONS, September 27 -- The run-off election in the Congo, the United Nations' focus in that country, is on schedule for October 29 and looking good, UN envoy William Lacy Swing said Wednesday.

   Swing briefed the UN Security Council, whose president emerged to say he hopes the second round goes at smoothly as the first. Since the first round was followed by clashing militias in the capital, and since even Swing acknowledged the recent arrest of hundreds of street children, either the UN has low standards for the Congo, or Swing is behind the closed Council doors painting a decidedly rosy picture.

   In front of the TV camera outside the Council chamber, Inner City Press asked Swing about the UN's changing story on an incident at Kazana in Eastern Congo's Ituri region in which a village was burned down.

   "The huts that were burned down were militia huts," Mr. Swing said. But Inner City Press' sources, including eyewitnesses in Kazana that day, state that the burned huts had well-tended gardens, swept walkways and household utensils not associated with militia, in Congo or anywhere else.

            "We have never declared an intention to do an investigation as such" of Kazana, William Swing said into the camera, click here to view from Minute 5 of 9. But the UN's head of peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno answered an Inner City Press question in late July of this year by saying he was "studying" the Kazana investigation carried out by the UN's mission in Congo, MONUC.

  Since then, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has had to change the date they had ascribed to the Kazana incident, and has had to admit that huts were burned down. The claim by Swing that all huts belonged to militia, and that there will be -- and has been -- no investigation is questions unanswered that must continue to be asked.

UN's Ross Mountain in Ituri

            So too with question surrounding the Congo warlord who kidnapped seven UN peacekeepers for a month this past July. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said, on camera, that Peter Karim would face "personal accountability." But Wednesday Mr. Annan's envoy William Swing said that from "early on" in the negotiations leading to the peacekeepers' released, there was an intention to offer Karim a rank on the Congolese army. That has not been "fully consummated," Swing said. There are reports that Karim is conscripting more fighters, including children, to order to gain the title of general.

            Inner City Press has been told that during the month-long negotiation with Peter Karim, that Karim was a Muslim and a member of Al Qaeda floated through one or more agencies of the U.S. government, and the U.S. quickly got involved in the negotiations. Wednesday Inner City Press asked Mr. Swing about this. Swing responded that in and around Ituti there are many "Muslim adherents" and mosques, but that he was not "aware of that."

            Aware of Peter Karim's status, or if the U.S. had gotten interested? Neither, Mr. Swing said, on camera. Video here, from Minute 8:15. That question will continue to be explored. After the ten minute Q&A, Inner City Press showed Mr. Swing an article which had come up -- click here -- and on which comment should be forthcoming.

            At an earlier briefing on the digital divide, Inner City Press asked Intel's chairman Craig Barrett about any safeguards in place to ensure that the used coltan does not come from conflict zones in the Congo. Are there any safeguards? "Not that I'm aware of," Mr Barrett answered. Click here to view, at Minute 27:14.

            The UN Spokesman's office provided two post-briefing answers. Inner City Press has asked about reports that Sudan's Al-Bashir government sabotages military equipment that comes in bound for Darfur, as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frazer told Inner City Press last week. The UN's responses on Wednesday were not entirely consistent: that UNMIS in Khartoum has not received complaints, but that UN envoy Jan Pronk spoke about this issue before Ms. Frazer did. Which is it?

            Asked about a request by the opposition in Zimbabwe that the UN cease for now accepting Zimbabwean troops as peacekeepers, given the issues in Harare, the UN responded that it will only act on such requests when they come from governments. On a related report that at least one Zimbabwean soldier was involuntarily returned from a UN peacekeeping mission after reports of abuse, the UN responded that its personnel actions are generally confidential. An exception was made for a list on sexual exploitation and abuse recently provided to Inner City Press because these "are crimes," the UN said Wednesday. These issues and the situation in Zimbabwe, in which Mr. Annan stepped back from mediating due to the now-questionable involvement of Ben Mkapa, will continue to be followed closely.

            Among the closest followers of speeches and resulting online news articles in the latter stages of the UN's General Debate must be Azerbaijan. Reacting to a UN News headline, "Armenia Azerbaijan and Armenia Exchange Accusations on Nagorno-Karabakh During UN Debate," which was sent out by email at 5 p.m. Tuesday to Inner City Press and others, Azerbaijan complained and the story was unceremoniously taken down, the headline's "trade accusation" switched to "address issue" and the article substantially edited. But the two countries did trade barbs, as Inner City Press recently reported after dueling statements in the General Assembly about even jointly putting out fires in the disputed region. Or shouldn't we use the word "disputed"? To paraphrase New York tabloid columnist Cindy Adams, "Only at the UN, kids, only at the UN."

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Warlord in the Waldorf and Other Congo Questions Dodged by the UN in the Time Between Elections

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press

   September 26-27, 2006 -- The United Nations Mission in the Congo, MONUC, is the UN system's largest peacekeeping project. In the run-up to MONUC chief William Lacy Swing's September 27 briefing to the Security Council, five questions have been raised to the Office of the Spokesman for the UN and MONUC. One was referred to the U.S. State Department, one was ignored and another awaits response.

   Two questions, regarding the mass arrest in Kinshasa of 500 woman and children and the German Defense Minister's desire to pull out the European Union force in November, garnered terse responses. On the former, " more than a dozen children and some 100 other men and women, some with babies, remained in custody on Tuesday inside the police compound in Kinshasa." Click here.  The UN responded, "About recent violence, he Secretary General has repeatedly appealed to Congolese and their leaders to ensure that the elections proceed peacefully."

   On the statement by German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, the UN's response is that it did not expect the EU force to stay.

   A question about William Lacy Swing's previous service in Liberia in the time Samuel Doe, during which current president Sirleaf-Johnson was locked up, was referred to the U.S. State Department, or to Swing "in his personal capacity."

The UN in Kinshasa

  A question about the continued boycott of the second round of elections by the largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress  and its leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, has yet to be answered. UPDS released a statement saying that the UN has excluded it; the UN has not responded. And a fourth question, pending for 48 hours, has been entirely ignored. This was the question, and context, posed to the Spokesman's office on the afternoon of September 25:

[Please]  provide any background or comment on ex-militia leader Mbusa Nyamwisi, formerly of the Armee Populaire Congolaise of the RCD / KML and now minister for regional cooperation of the DR of Congo? This question is asked in the context, among other things, of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frazer's comment last week [to Inner City Press] that MONUC must closely scrutinize the FARDC and wider DRC government if MONUC is going to continue to work with them]

            The further context of this still-unanswered question is that on September 22 at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel on Manhattan's Park Avenue, Inner City Press spoke with ex-warlord Mbusa Nyamwisi, who said he was staying in room 1612 of the Waldorf through the weekend, even though Joseph Kabila had left town. Mbusa Nyamwisi  was the counterparty to Jean-Pierre Bemba in the latter's Operation "Effacer Le Tableau" (Erase the Blackboard) in Eastern Congo, in which villages were burned, civilians killed and pygmies were reportedly eaten.  Friday Mbusa Nyamwisi's belly was larger and softer as he settled in for a weekend in New York.  In the first round of the election, Mbusa Nyamwisi threw his weight behind Kabila. Is this the UN's work plan? One would expect some comment. In any event, we will soon have a longer, more nuanced view of Mbusa Nyamwisi.

            Inner City Press has had in a request to interview W. L. Swing. Tuesday at noon it was announced that Mr. Swing will take questions after he briefs the Security Council on Wednesday. Inner City Press aims to be there, to get these questions answered. Watch this site.

At the UN, Tales of Media Muzzled in Yemen, Penned in at the Waldorf on Darfur, While Copters Grounded

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 -- This week's Yemeni elections, mentioned as a sign of hope by U.S. President George W. Bush in his speech to the UN General Assembly, have resulted in charges of fraud by the opposition. On Friday at a UN press conference, Inner City Press asked Yemen's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abubakr A. Al-Qirbi about the opposition's charges. Al-Qirbi responded that since the opposition is also attacking the credibility of European Union observers, their claims should be taken with skepticism.

            Inner City Press then asked about a report by the Human Rights Information and Training Center, that state-run television in Yemen favored the incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh. Foreign Minister Al-Qirbi responded that in the run-up to the election, opposition parties founded human rights groups to raise claims on their behave. Inner City Press then asked if Al-Qirby was stating, beyond just implying, that the Human Rights Information and Training Center was a front for opposition parties. After some hesitation Al-Qirby said, "As far as a know, it was not founded by opposition parties."

            Then Yemen's Ambassador to the UN, who'd sat with Al-Qirby at the podium, added that "Our neighbors say: 'This is unprecedented that you allow the opposition to come in and attack you on the official TV." Video here, following Minute 20:30. This quote showed up mis-attributed to Al-Qirby himself in a hastily-issued Associated Press article without a byline, entitled "Yemen's FM denies vote-rigging, praises advances toward democracy." These things happen, apparently, during a grueling week of General Assembly debate.

West Darfur per UN

            Other exhausted reporters gathered Friday from 4 to 6 at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue. In the Hilton Room just off lobby where a piano tastefully played, Mark Malloch Brown, Condoleeza Rice and the foreign ministers of Denmark, Ghana, Senegal and other countries met about Darfur. Reporters were ejected from the room once opening statements were over. In the lobby, U.S. security personnel pushed reporters into an impromptu pen, after a dog has sniffed their equipment (TV equipment, we mean). To while away the hour and a half of the meeting, reporters who'd accompanied Condi Rice from DC swamped stories. One well-groomed Fox News reporter told the tale of a woman who'd just ended a relationship of six year, because she caught her partner cheating with another man -- the third time this had happened to the woman. "I told her it's not her, it's societal," the Fox man said. Later Condi Rice called on him by name, for a question why the U.S. is not being harder on Iran. And so it goes...

            On Darfur, beyond set-up Condi Rice stakeout at the Waldorf, at the UN reporters asked Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, about the lack of Arab League support for the African Union mission in Sudan, AMIS, on which Inner City Press reported yesterday.  Amre Moussa answered vaguely that now that AMIS' mandate has been extended through the end of the year, financial support will be forthcoming, in an amount yet to be determined.

            On the U.S.'s charges -- video now online here -- that Sudan's Al-Bashir government has been sabotaging armored personnel carriers en route to AMIS in Darfur, and delaying the issues of visas, Inner City Press asked these questions at the UN Spokesman's noon briefing on Friday, as summarized by the UN:

   Asked about comments from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer that the Sudanese Government has been dismantling armored personnel carriers and other equipment intended for the African Union Mission in Sudan, the Spokesman said that the United Nations intended to move more than 100 UN personnel, as well as communications equipment, to help bolster the AU Mission prior to the transition to a UN force.

    He said that, as with any peacekeeping force, the United Nations in Sudan would have to work with the sovereign government, but it would expect all equipment that it delivers to be 'in one piece.' He noted that UN personnel would accompany the equipment being transported to the African Union Mission

            In further inquiries, Inner City Press has heard that the Sudanese Army has been allowed to tamper with AMIS' helicopters at night, removing for example the motor oil so that the helicopters can't fly in the mornings, and military actions against civilians can continue. A correspondent reports that the UN's man in Sudan, Jan Pronk, speaks of equipment languishing in Port Sudan, under control of the Al-Bashir government.

            Back in media-world, penned in at the Waldorf, among the unrelated news-bits learned is that Ghana's Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, whom Inner City Press interviewed during Ghana's Security Council presidency in August of this year, click here to read, plans to run for the presidency of Ghana in 2008. One correspondent at the Waldorf Friday reminisced about Ghana's Council presidency, compared to the current president, who at Friday afternoon declined to do a stakeout interview after a Council meeting at which a President Statement on Congo was issued and Sudan acted on. When a business-minded reporter asked him if the UN's political chief Ibrahim Gambari might be the one to brief the Council on Myanmar, the current Council president responded, "You are asking about unimportant matters." Unimportant to whom?

Third Day of UN General Debate Gets Surreal, Canapes and Killings, Questions on Iran and Montenegro and Still Somalia

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 20 -- On the sidelines of the unfolding UN General Assembly meeting, surreal scene unfold, such as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov speaking with reporters in front of a graphic photo exhibition of victims of terrorism, while canapes go like hot cakes, literally. This took place Thursday evening, three-quarters of the way through a day of speeches. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a press conference in Conference Room 4 mused which of his questioners were Zionists, and which one "work for the UN... trying to enforce Security Council resolution" like Resolution 1701 barring weapons in Lebanon except for that country's government.

   Ahmadinejad said repeatedly that he supports people who are getting killed, anywhere and by anyone. Time or the MC did not allow for these questions to be asked: what about in Darfur? Or in Xingjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, or Chechnya?


  Thursday at the UN began with a ceremony for the International Day of Peace, including without explanation Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall and on cello, Yo-Yo Ma. There was singing by a choir of 193 children -- one wag wondered if this was a harbinger of the outcome of the Kosovo status talks, given that there are currently only 192 member states of the UN.

  Number 192, Montenegro, told Media Accreditation, which told the Spokesman's Office, which told correspondents, that the new nation's prime minister would appear at the Security Council stakeout to take questions. Inner City Press passed through metal detectors with two questions to ask. But there was no microphone, no camera, and no Montenegrins. Here though are the questions: what will happen with the weapons Montenegro says it will sell, now that it has split with Serbia? And what are the prime minister's plans, to step down or not? And what about cigarette smuggling? But that would be the third, unanswered question...

   Some statements are so surreal they preempt all questions. Briefing on the Day of Peace, it was read-out that "in Somalia, for example, our office there tells us that communities in major population centers throughout the country are celebrating the Day with special activities ranging from peace marches and sporting events to music and dance." But the UN's own write-up of the Day of Peace quotes UN "Special Representative Francois Lonseny Fall highlighted two 'particularly violent events this week [that] have pushed peace deeper into the shadows,' the murder of an Italian nun who had served the needs of children in Mogadishu and the assassination attempt on President Abdullahi Yusuf in Baidoa. 'I wish I could paint a bright picture for Somalia today, but there are too many clouds, too many uncertainties on the horizon. And there are far too many competing interests that have too little to do with the profound humanitarian needs of the civilian population and the development of the country,' he said." So what happened to the music and dance?

  At the same briefing, Inner City Press was asked to summarize its still-unanswered questions on Somalia. From the transcript:

Question:  What communications has the UN system had with Transition Federal Government since the assassination attempt?  And, I have two questions into OCHA and about Somalia, that if you could light a fire under themÖ

Associate Spokesman:  And what are those questions?

Question:  Whether OCHA works with a particular member of the Islamic Courts known to have torn up Italian cemeteries and built a mosque on top on them, a known fanatic.  Just a question whether they work with him or not.  And whether in fact there is, as is reported, an investigation of UNDP Somalia for missing funds?  Those are the two questions and both of them said they would give an answer as of last week and have not.

Associate Spokesman:  Well, Iím sure they are still looking into those two questions.  As for your first question, we are permanently in contact with the Somali authorities and we have an office based in Nairobi that specially monitors development in Somalia, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia has very specifically the mandate of monitoring developments in Somalia.  So, he is touch regularly with the authorities in Somalia.  And, I will make sure that my colleagues get back to you on your two other questions.

  Inner City Press checked in later with the Associate Spokesman and reiterated the questions. So now we'll just wait...

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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"Horror Struck" is How UN Officials Getting Free Housing from Governments Would Leave U.S., Referral on Burma But Not Uzbekistan

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Inquiry Into Housing Subsidies Contrary to UN Charter Goes Ignored for 8 Weeks, As Head UN Peacekeeper Does Not Respond

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UN Decries Uzbekistan's Use of Torture, While Helping It To Tax and Rule; Updates on UNIFIL and UNMIS Off-Message

At the UN, Lebanon Resolution Passes with Loophole, Amb. Gillerman Says It Has All Been Defensive

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Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

For reporting about banks, predatory lending, consumer protection, money laundering, mergers or the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), click here for Inner City Press's weekly CRA Report. Inner City Press also reports weekly concerning the Federal Reserve, environmental justice, global inner cities, and more recently on the United Nations, where Inner City Press is accredited media. Follow those links for more of Inner City Press's reporting, or, click here for five ways to contact us, with or for more information.

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