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Posted on on January 22nd, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

UN Dodges on Search and Safety, 278 National Staff Unaccounted For, Blames Media

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 19 — As UN officials in Haiti lash out at the media for reporting on looting, they are unable or unwilling to answer Press questions about the safety of their building, rescue efforts made or a helicopter “crash” that they themselves reported.

Top UN Peacekeeper Alain Leroy on Tuesday morning told Inner City Press he had heard the same reports of a helicopter crash in Haiti, but to ask his deputy Edmond Mulet, who was appear at noon by video link for Haiti.

When he did, Mulet said “I’ve heard about this crash” but that “the UN and MINUSTAH have nothing to do with it.” But the UN says it is playing the central coordinating role. Inner City Press asked for an update on MINUSTAH’s inquiry into the safety of its 1200 national Haitian staff, on whom at first it did not report. Mulet responded that 278 are still unaccounted for, adding that perhaps some are “dealing with their own grievances.” Video here, from Minute 21:26. Speaking of grieving, Inner City Press asked what had been done to try to find and save staffer Alexandra Duguay, an energetic Canadian who until recently worked at UN headquarters, as well as running marathons.

During Sunday’s whirlwind tour of Port au Prince by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and some hand selected media, complaints were made that not enough was done to find Ms. Duguay. Since then, the National Post quoted her parents that she had been found, dead. Still, MINUSTAH spokesman David Wimhurst replied that he had no information, “I don’t have” ID’s, while mentioning another building that collapsed with ten people inside. Video here, from Minute 32:20. On Monday evening, Inner City Press directed to Mr. Wimhurst a question about the helicopter crash on which UN sources were reporting, without any further information being given. Rather, the UN’s communications strategy appears to be to attack media which reports on looting or rioting in Haiti.

Ruins of UN’s rented Hotel Christopher, with copter in background

Mr. Mulet calls such reports “irresponsible” — he also called looting “normal” — while Mr. Wimhurst, pointing out that he attended Columbia School of Journalism and was “well trained,” chided media for “looking for conflict,” for trying to blame the UN for things. One wonders what Mr. Wimhurst, and others in the UN, thought of the media’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and responses in New Orleans. It is known that the Secretariat and Spokesman have reacted angrily to this comparison. Mulet said he wasn’t aware if the UN’s headquarters in the Christopher Hotel, for which it paid out $94,000 a month, had been brought into MOSS compliance. Mulet said all the records were destroyed. It seems strange that records on a contract and lease of this size were stored in the building itself. Mulet said this would be followed up on. We will be following up.

* * *

At UN on Haiti, Ban Dodges on Immigration, Armenians Rebuffed, No Copter

By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, January 19 — As the UN Security Council voted to authorize 3500 more peacekeepers for Haiti, including 1500 more police, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on member states to step forward with offers of troops.

Inner City Press asked about the Dominican Republic’s offer of a battalion, said to number 800, and whether Ban and the UN think that countries should be less stringent with their immigration restrictions after the Haitian earthquake. Mr. Ban replied by praising the Dominican Republic for its troop offer — which some see as simply blue helmeting a border guarding force — and for its help with the humanitarian effort. He is aware, he said, of the Dominican Republic’s attempt to accommodate Haitians within the Republic’s “rules and regulations.” Inner City Press asked Ban about reports that the UN had run out of fuel for its trucks to deliver aid. Top humanitarian John Holmes passed a note to Ban Ki-moon, who read out that last night 10,000 gallons of fuels had arrived. When Holmes himself took to the custom made podium brought out for Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked him about a reported complaint by Armenia’s Mission to the UN, that they had offered a rescue team last Thursday but were never told of any UN acceptance or decision.

Holmes replied that he was unaware, but that there are always issues of matching needs with offers. But from member states? Inner City Press, which reported exclusively Monday evening about what UN sources said
was a helicopter crash in Haiti
, asked chief Peacekeeper Alain Leroy for an update. I’ve seen those reports, he said, but I have no new information this morning. He said to ask Edmond Mulet, who will be appearing later on Tuesday by video link from Haiti.

UN’s Ban and former spokeswoman, answers on immigration not shown

The Ambassador of China Zhang Yesui , this month’s Security Council president, came out at announced the Council’s vote. While usually he leaves the stakeout without taking any questions — on Monday he walked away as Inner City Press asked about the attacks in Afghanistan — this time he called on Xinhua, and offered a long answer on camera, in Chinese. It concerned the UN’s role in responding to Haiti. Asked if China would offer any more troops — its 125 member contingent is, as Inner City Press has reported, a “riot squad” that when rotated has flown back to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region — Zhang Yesui said it would be taken under advisement. The last speaker at the stakeout was U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, who came prepared with an answer to Inner City Press’ question of Monday, whether the $100 million of aid announced by President Barack Obama would be part of the UN’s flash appeal.

No, Ambassador Wolff said, the $100 million is “bilateral.” But he said that the US will be contributing generously to the UN’s flash appeal, in the coming days. We’ll see. Footnote: because the UN and even Security Council has become all Haiti, all the time for now, Inner City Press asked the U.S.’s Alejandro Wolff about reports of bombing in Darfur, requests to protect civilians, and Chad’s statement it does not want the mandate of the Darfur related MINURCAT peacekeeping mission renewed. Wolff said the U.S. is concerned and is seeking more information. Inner City Press has asked the UN too, and hopes to be able to write more on this topic shortly. Watch this site.

From the UN’s January 19 transcript:Inner City Press: Mr. Secretary-General, the Dominican Republic has offered a battalion – it has been said publicly – they’ve also said that they are very concerned about immigration and people crossing the border. Does the UN have anything to say whether countries should loosen their immigration restrictions on Haitians, or otherwise, after this crisis? And also, does the UN still have gas to run its trucks? There was a report in USA Today that the UN was running out of gas for its food distribution trucks.

SG Ban Ki-moon: From the beginning of this crisis, the Dominican Republic Government has been providing very generously and swiftly all possible assistance to their neighbouring country, Haiti, and we are very much grateful to them. I am also aware of the Dominican Republic’s intention to dispatch troops there – that is also welcome. For the immigration issues, I am also aware that the Dominican Republic Government is trying to accommodate as many as possible, those people within the existing rules and regulations of their country, but they have been very generous. Of course, this fuel is quite limited in Haiti. Ten thousand gallons of fuel, I think, arrived last night from the Dominican Republic. That will help more, as we continue our operations.


Among UN P-5, France and UK Talk Secret, US Fetes New Diplomat, Russia Dubious on Yemen, China Flew in 3 Hours

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 19 — Amid the Haitian earthquake emergency, attacks on Kabul, in Yemen and in Darfur, the US Mission to the UN on Tuesday night welcomed a diplomat into the fold, on the 42nd floor of the Waldorff Towers.

As U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff put it in his introduction, Rick Barton has represented the US in 30 countries in ten years. And on his family vacation, he went to post-Katrina New Orleans to build homes. The well attended reception, complete with miniature grilled cheese sandwiches and brownies, began with somber statements for Haiti. In the crowd, many asked Inner City Press if the coverage of the UN was too negative, unfair, sensational. CNN’s Anderson Cooper showed looters; the Washington Post’s new Turtle swung for the fences dubbing Haiti “Ban’s Katrina.” At a UN Foundation luncheon on Tuesday, Ban Ki-moon took that author to task for several minutes, publicly. This, apparently, is the new take-charge Ban, more general than secretary, at least for now. From Haiti via video link Ban’s former spokesman Michele Montas also said the media is being too negative. Ban envoy Edmond Mulet called the Press irresponsible. The Missions to the UN of the UK and France take a different approach to the media. Each has an off the record briefing scheduled January 20 for selected reporters. The two used to hold such briefings on different days, but then even the “Western diplomat” moniker was too transparent.

Now they hide behind each other, only because few file stories between the UK’s early morning briefing and France’s 5 p.m. follow up. Call them the taciturn twins. One knows what was said but it not supposed to report it. What then is the point?

Here’s one the UK Ambassador should be asked: is it true, as Middle Eastern sources say, that the UK is trying in the Security Council to bring up the conflict in Yemen, specifically targeting Iran’s support for some parties?

UK’s Lyall Grant and US in Council, Yemen and secret briefings not shown

In this account, the Russians balked, saying as Missourians do, Show me. Or at least wait until the conference on Yemen in London on January 27. Before that, on January 25 in Montreal, there’s a conference on Haiti. France’s Ambassador Araud — who initially put the date at February 25 — took a decidedly different stance on the U.S. in Haiti than did his foreign minister and Cooperation minister.

The ministers questioned U.S. domination, while Araud stepped back and said, we are grateful, we live here. But what will he say behind closed doors?

A French journalist, while suggesting to Inner City Press that Araud was being diplomatic — imagine that! — also lambasted the Obama administration’s resurrection of the Monroe Doctrine. “They have spoken with the Brazilians and the Canadians,” he said, “as if that is enough.” So the US hardly briefs anymore, and the UK and France do so mostly on deepest background. What has happened, some wonder, to these P-2, P-3, even P-5? Chinese Ambassador Liu on Tuesday night told Inner City Press that China had its search and rescue team in the air to Haiti three hours after the earthquake. He asked, of disaster forecasting, “But why didn’t they have notice?” Why indeed.

Ironically the Chinese mission can be more open than the UK or France. With decided irony, a Chinese diplomat told Inner City Press that the Council first Press Statement on Haiti was only unobjectionable because of the UN presence there. Otherwise, he said with a wink, it would be an internal matter.

Meanwhile the UN Missions of the UK and France, while espousing free press, play a more elite game, casting aspersions on background, what some call a secret club of slander and others call diplomatic. They want their positions put in a positive light, but provide only selective illumination.

Tuesday night Rick Barton, after a stirring speech of the type that perhaps shouldhave been deployed earlier in Massachusetts, ended with a folksy talefrom his childhood. He lived in Bronxville — connected he said toworld affairs by one who died with Dag Hammarskjold in his Central African plane crash — and visited the UN. His mother ran across First Avenue, causes taxi after taxi to screech to a stop.

“Heylady,” the last cabbie shouted, addressing his mother as he had never heard before. “Next year, the Olympics!” Barton related this challenge to his UN work, a marathon of plenary speeches. But that’s only the onthe record part. Watch this site.

* * *

AtUN, It’s “All Hail” to US in Haiti, While Elsewhere Franceand Brazil Are Critical

ByMatthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 18 — As the UNSecurity Council emptied out Mondayat noon, sources told Inner City Press that in closed consultations,the U.S. said that to strengthen the mandate of the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, would “send the wrong message… that the Haitian government is weak.”Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, who represented the U.S. in the meeting and spokeafterwards to the Press, said that the U.S. is supporting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s request for a vote authorizing 2000more troops and 1500 more police for MINUSTAH. InnerCity Press asked Ambassador Wolff if it is true that the U.S. thinking strengthening the mandate would send some wrong message. Wolffr eplied that the UN, including chief Peacekeeper Alain Leroy, has not identified any deficiency in the mandate. AsBrazil’s A mbassador left the Council, Inner City Press asked her about publicquotes from Brazil that MINUSTAH’s mandate should, in fact, bebolstered. She, however, called the mandate “sufficient.”

When askedabout any difficulties Brazilian NGOs have had gettinginto Haiti through the airport, now run by the U.S., she said therehave been “no such problems.”

French Ambassador Gerard Araud, too, was over the top in his praise of the U.S.,telling the Press that “we are living in the US after all.” Inner City Press asked if, as reported, France supported Medecins Sans Frontierescomplaints about having planes blocked by the Americansfrom the Portau Prince airport.

French Ambassador Araud, ministers’ critiques of U.S. not shown

Araudquickly answered (video here)that the Americans are doing a good job, that the airport is small by international standards, and that “we are living inthe US after all.” Infact, French Cooperation Minister AlainJoyandet made a complaint about the blocking of MSF’s plane. And Araud’s boss Bernard Kouchnerhas said the airport has become an “annex or Washington,” according to France’s Ambassador to Haiti Didier Le Bret.

So what is France’s position — these two statements, or Araud’s?

From the French Mission’stranscription, of question dubious, ofanswer less so:

Inner City Press:Médecins sans frontières complained that its planes couldn’t get in to the airport and blamed the Americans. Does France confirm that?

Amb. Araud: Of course, no.I think we areextremely grateful and personally I said it in the Council, extremely grateful for what the US government is doing, and especially managing the airport. You know, frustrations are understandable. You have asmall airport, in international terms, which was devastated by the earthquake and you have hundred of planes which want to land. So it’s totally normal that there are delays, but I think that the situation has dramatically improved. Yesterday, you know, it was possible tohave sixty planes landing and today it will be one hundred planes landing. But the most important will be to work on the port. We have to rehabilitate the port where we can bring most of the aid.

Once again, we are living in the US after all, and we want to express our gratitude for the mobilization of the US administration and the US people.

From the US Mission’s transcript:Inner City Press: Someone said on this idea of strengthening the mandate that the U.S. had a concern that this would send a message some how that the Government of Haiti was too weak. I just want to know whether you think there is a danger in that type of message being sent. And also whether the U.S. will be participating in the UN’s Flash Appeal that was announced on Friday, whether the $100 million announced by President Obama in any way is related to that or should be counted towards that.

Ambassador Wolff: I’ll get back to you on the later question, I want to make sure I have the right information for you, exactly how that $100 million fits into that,into the Flash Appeal. As to the mandate issue, there is no indication, indeed neither the Secretary-General nor Undersecretary-General Le Roy mentioned any deficiency in the current mandate. And so, if the UN is satisfied and the troop contributors are satisfied and the force commander is satisfied then we should focus on what we need to do under the current mandate. Of course, asyou indicate, we will need to look and evaluate over the longer term,as we assess the long term impact of this tragedy on the country andon the UN’s ability to function, and whether the requirements for the UN have to be adapted in any way. That is something that we dowith any mandate and we will obviously do it with particular attention in this case.

Watch this site.

Footnote: Since the Security Council has other matters on its agenda, Inner City Press tried to ask this month’s Council president, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui, if and when heexpects the Council to address Afghanistan. But having been asked if the Chinese search and rescue team stopped after finding the Chinese delegation who’d met with Hedi Annabi, Zhang Yesui just walked away. Who will replace him as China’s Ambassador is not yet known.

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