Sunday, February 18, 2018

Taro Kono Pitches for PM After Dodged UN PKO, Of China Envy & Small Japan Steaks, Cuts Hurt

By Matthew Russell Lee, VinePeriscope

UNITED NATIONS, February 18 – Japan and some of its media express concern that China is eclipsing them, even as they eschew investigation for  fluff like Hideki Matsui eating steak standing up. Now they bemoan that China's foreign minister has visited more countries - 262 they say, which don't exist - than Toro Kono, now promoting himself as a possible prime minister. But they didn't follow up on Taro Kono's evasive answer to Inner City Press about returning to UN peacekeeping after failure in South Sudan, for example. 

As the North Korea UN sanctions "experts" report continues to be cherry picked further and further down the food chain, now that North Korea paid its 2017 UN dues by means of a swap is also ignored, in favor of fluff pieces about former Yankee Hideki Matsui eating small steaks on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile in the wake of admitted misreporting on Okinawa, accountability means cutting of one month's salary from the Naha bureau chief. But are such cuts overseas, amid "coverage" of cuts of beef, not likely to cause more errors? Like the recent report focused on coal, pointing the finger at Vietnam, Russia, China, Vietnam and South Korea. Omitted, apparently intentionally, are violations by Japanese companies, like Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, as Inner City Press has reported. It is facts chucked or thrown, rather than fact checked. The reporting is politicized, or as identified in Tokyo, "last week the Sankei Shimbun retracted an article it published in December about a U.S. Marine who was injured in a car accident, saying it could not confirm that the marine had been trying to save a Japanese citizen when he was hit by the car. In an article published on Feb. 8, the Sankei Shimbun explained it had received a comment from the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa about the accident, but had failed to confirm with the Okinawa Prefectural Police whether the marine really saved the man. According to Duke Reporters’ Lab, a project by Duke University that maintains a database of fact-checking organizations across the globe, there was only one fact-checking website in Japan as of Friday. The site, called GoHoo, is headed by Hitofumi Yanai, a lawyer and co-founder of FIJ. There were 44 such websites and organizations in the U.S., five in South Korea and one in China." By this count, Japan is the same as China. And how much fact checking is done at the UN, on reporting about the UN? We'll have more on this.  On the now exposed reporting about a car crash in Okinawa back in December 2017, complete with similar finger pointing at the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times. On that one Masato Inui, an executive officer at Sankei Shimbun, has made promises. And on the other?

Cameroon's Biya Has Spent 4 Years & $182 Million in Geneva, UN Guterres Takes Statue

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video1st Person

UNITED NATIONS, February 18 – The deference of the UN system's and many of its member states to Cameroon's corrupt 35-year president Paul Biya, and their complicity in his recent crackdown, continues. A new report details Biya's long stays outside of the country in Geneva, while his military kills Anglophones and the country declines. Biya has spent four and a half years in Geneva, at a cost of $65 million in hotel fees and $117 million for chartered private plane, sometimes left "on stand-by" for weeks at a time. 

The report goes one level down: "One of Biya’s closest confidants, Joseph Fouda, a military officer and special advisor, has accompanied him on at least 86 trips, amounting to more than three years of travel since 1993. He prefers a room on a top floor of the Intercontinental. Another close confidant, Martin Belinga Eboutou, 78, has spent nearly three years travelling with the president starting in 1987, when he was Cameroon’s ambassador to Morocco. The president attempted to buy a brand new private jet in 2004, but his staff reportedly cut corners on the deal, buying a defective plane covered by a fresh coat of paint that nearly crashed on its first flight. Since then, the president has chartered at least several private aircraft, including a luxury jet formerly owned by the government of Kazakhstan." Still UN Secretary General, himself a murky first class flyer, smilingly took Biya's golden statue and has done nothing; his advisers Khassim Diagne and the outgoing head of Political Affairs have assured him of Biya's bona fides or the wisdom of doing... nothing. The UN has failed. The UN refugee agency UNHCR in Abuja early on January 30 told Inner City Press that it has as yet no comment on the blatant forced repatriation or refoulement to Cameroon of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and 46 others while it seeks "explanations through official channels." (Later UNHCR issued a short statement.) On January 31, Inner City Press again asked UN SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres' Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here and below. When Inner City Press on February 8 put the refoulement question to Francois Delattre, the UN Ambassador of France which has supported Paul Biya's 36-year rule, Delattre replied that "We always have views but no comment from me at this stage." Video here. That is irresponsible - or another sign of France's responsibility for what is happening in the region. We'll have more on this - and now on Germany. Angela Merkel's "personal representative for Africa" Gunter Nooke showed up in Yaounde on February 15 trying as he does elsewhere to drum up business. With him was Ambassador Hans Dieter Stell; there was according to CRTV "the exchange of gifts symbolic of Cameroon's legendary hospitality." Another golden statue like UNSG Guterres took? At UN headquarters, as Inner City Press alone asked, Germany's Ambassador procured a publicly funded post for his wife by merely emailing Guterres' chief of staff. Inner City Press asked Dujarric and his deputy Haq - no real answer - while the only other question asked about it was how the information about the job had leaked. The media asking that is given full access to the UN by the UN Department of Public Information of British Alison Smale, a major Germanophile who continues to have Inner City Press restricted, its long time work space given to a no-show no-question Egyptian state media. We'll have more on this.
The United Kingdom's silence about the plight of Anglophone residents of the former British Southern Cameroons persists even in the face of a Freedom of Information Act request from Inner City Press. 
More than five months ago on 15 August 2017 Inner City Press asked the UK government for records concerning Cameroon. After repeatedly extending the time to response, now the UK has denied access to all responsive records, letter here, saying that "the release of information relating to the UK’s discussion on UN business could harm our relations and other member states of the United Nations (UN)." 
Here on Patreon is the full denial letter, from which Inner City Press is preparing an appeal, on Yemen as well - it has 40 working days. 
This is shameful - the UK is also exiting transparency. 
On February 6 in front of the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked the United Kingdom's Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen for the UK's comment on Nigeria's forced repatriation of 47 to Cameroon. From the UK transcript: Inner City Press: Nigeria did a forced repatriation of 47 Cameroonian leaders. The UNHCR said it was illegal. The US has commented on it. Does the UK have any view? Amb Allen: I’m afraid I wasn’t aware of that before. I’ll have to get back to you on the details." Video here. At day's end, a UK Mission spokesperson sent Inner City Press a short comment, here
As Inner City Press pursues these questions at the UN, again it remains restricted to minders by the head of the UN Department of Public Information Alison Smale, who it is noted is British - and functionally a censor. A retaliator, too? As noted, Smale has not explained why Inner City Press' long time work space is assigned to no-show, no-question Egyptian state media Akhbar al Youm. 

Meanwhile the French government, which claims at the UN and elsewhere that human rights is in its DNA, has ignored the refoulement, limited its condemnation instead, via 
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll, on "new killings of law enforcement officials that took place on 1 February in Cameroon." 
In Yaounde, France's Ambassador Gilles Thibault is focusing, like Reuters' ostensibly charitable arm, on the cultivation of pepper, see here. This is colonialism.Are these the relations that the UK claims would be hurt by complying with FOIA? Watch this site. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

As North Korea Sanctions Report Cherry Picked Down to Pits, BOTM Cloaked, Okinawa Echo

By Matthew Russell Lee, VinePeriscope

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 – As the North Korea UN sanctions "experts" report continues to be cherry picked further and further down the food chain, now comes a report focused on coal, pointing the finger at Vietnam, Russia, China, Vietnam and South Korea. Omitted, apparently intentionally, are violations by Japanese companies, like Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, as Inner City Press has reported. The reporting is politicized, just as the now exposed reporting about a car crash in Okinawa back in December 2017, complete with similar finger pointing at the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times. 

On that one Masato Inui, an executive officer at Sankei Shimbun, is quoted that “We will train our reporters more thoroughly to prevent this happening again and work toward improving the credibility of our reports." And on the other?

 As North Korea says it can't pay its 2018 UN dues because of sanctions on its banks, there are 14 other UN member states at least two years behind in their dues payments, according to Secretary General Antonio's letter less than a month ago. While four of these countries got exemptions from losing their voting power in the General Assembly, ten were stripped of their votes, including oil-rich UN Security Council member Equatorial Guinea. The other countries listed as denied votes for failure to pay are Libya, also under UN sanctions; Venezuela, Suriname, Grenada, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Marshall Islands, Central African Republic and Yemen, being bombed by Saudi Arabia. The four that got exemption and can still vote are Sao Tome and Principe, Comoros, Somalia and Guinea-Bissau, the latter two also on the agenda of the UN Security Council.  While the Democratic Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name, last year paid its UN dues as a "swap," for this year's $180,000 it has told the UN that sanctions are prohibiting the transfer and asks that the UN take action. Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk wrote to UN Department of Management chief Jan Beagle, in a letter obtained by Inner City Press and available in full here on Patreon, that "Last year we paid our contribution to the UN in the form of swap with the operation expenses of the UN agencies in the DPRK, purely out of its position to honor its obligation as a UN member state, but it is an abnormal method which cannot be applied continuously in view of our state law and regulations. I would like to kindly request the UN Secretariat to take measures, in
conformity with its mission with impartiality and independence as lifeline, to secure promptly the bank transaction channel through which the regular payment of the DPRK’s contribution is made possible." We'll have more on this. Back on January 17 when the UN's Committee on Relations with the Host Country met, the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea read a three-page statement condemning the US for issuing his Mission to the UN's tax-exempt card in the name "North Korea" and not Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He said, "We presumed it would be only a kind of technical mistake by the U.S. side, and returned the card back to the U.S. mission, while requesting them to correct that serious mistake." The statement, which Inner City Press has exclusively obtained immediately after the meeting (photos here, full PDF of letter via Patreon, here) continued that the U.S. mission replied, "It seems to be a glitch in our database, we'll reach out to our office in DC." That was on December 13, the statement said, continuing: "on 14th December there was an explanation from the U.S. mission informing that, quoted as 'Our DC office has indicated that all country / mission names on OFM credentials for Democratic People's Republic of Korea indicate North Korea which is the conventional short abbreviation. The short name for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is North Korea, so the tax card will remain the same." The statement concluded by condemning "such reckless political hostile policy" and demanded an apology. Watch this site. Throughout 2016 New Zealand documentary maker Gaylene Preston and her crew staked out the UN Security Council along with Inner City Press, awaiting the results of the straw polls to elected Ban Ki-moon's sucessor as UN Secretary General. Preston's focus was Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister then in her second term as Administrator of the UN Development Program. Preston would ask Inner City Press after each poll, What about Helen Clark's chances? Suffice it to say Clark never caught fire as a candidate. Inner City Press told Preston, as did many other interviewees in her documentary “My Year with Helen,” that it might be sexism. But it might be power too - including Samantha Power, the US Ambassador who spoke publicly about gender equality and then in secret cast a ballot Discouraging Helen Clark, and praised Antonio Guterres for his energy (yet to be seen). Samantha Power's hypocrisy is called out in Preston's film, in which New Zealand's Ambassador complains that fully four members of the Council claimed to be the single “No Opinion” vote that Clark received. There was a private screening of My Year With Helen on December 4 at NYU's King Juan Carlos Center, attended by a range of UN staff, a New Zealand designer of a website for the country's proposal new flag, and Ban Ki-moon's archivist, among others. After the screening there was a short Q&A session. Inner City Press used that to point out that Guterres has yet to criticize any of the Permanent Five members of the Council who did not block him as the US, France and China blocked Clark, with Russia casting a “No Opinion.” And that Guterres picked a male from among France's three candidates to head UN Peacekeeping which they own, and accepted males from the UK and Russia for “their” top positions. Then over New Zealand wine the talk turned to the new corruption at the UN, which is extensive, and the upcoming dubious Wall Street fundraiser of the UN Correspondents Association, for which some in attendance had been shaken down, as one put it, for $1200.  The UN needed and needs to be shaken up, and hasn't been. But the film is good, and should be screened not in the UN Censorship Alliance but directly in the UN Security Council, on the roll-down movie screen on which failed envoys like Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed are projected. “My Year With Helen” is well worth seeing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Inner City Press Asks IMF of Zimbabwe "Usury," Spox Cites Lagarde in Davos, Qs on Iraq & Hungary

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 15 – When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed briefing on February 15, Inner City Press submitted questions about Zimbabwe, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Hungary. Spokesman Gerry Rice took Inner City Press' Zimbabwe question, including the word usurious, then provided assurances that Madame Lagarde met the new president in Davos and the IMF stands ready to help - when other arrears are paid off. 

The IMF did not (yet?) answer these Inner City Press questions: On Iraq, please comment and clarify: MP Abbas Bayati has rejected reports that the IMF has said loans to the central government will be issued on the condition Baghdad guarantees a minimum portion of the national budget for the Kurdistan Region. He said IMF does “not investigate the details of the loans [spent] by Iraq.” True? In Hungary, Norbert Maxin and Bela Bukta have been cleared of handing over damaging information to, or spying for, the IMF. What is the IMF's comment, and its interactions with the two, now that the case is over and the IMF can (and should) speak? Follow up on Sierra Leone, where it's said the IMF instead of using the word “stop” used a softer diplomatic word “delay” of payments... what the Minister of Finance and Baratay are doing is spin the fact. If they win the elections, they will now begin to implement the IMF conditions at the detriment of the ordinary people. In the first place, they agreed on the conditions at the detriment of the ordinary people of this country; their only motive was to receive the money for themselves and use the remainder to fund the elections so that they can stay in power." Back on February 1 on Sierra Leone, Inner City Press asked: "please specify the status of IMF's payments under the $224 million program to the government as relates to the upcoming elections and conditions such as cutting subsidies on rice and fuel." Deputy IMF Spokesman William Murray replied that a review that had been slated to be concluded in December has not been; he dodged on the relation to the election but it definitely calls into question the denials of Sierra Leone's finance minister and his demand that Africa Confidential get fact checkers. On Zimbabwe, Inner City Press asked, "On Zimbabwe, please specify the IMF's advice for clearing foreign debt. Is it, as reported, cuts to public sector wages, reducing farm subsidies, improving transparency in the mining sector & reaching an agreement on compensating farmers?" Murray talked up Managing Director Lagarde's meeting(s) in Davos but said the country still has a ways to go. Transcript and video soon. Back on January 18, Inner City Press asked the IMF about Yemen, Somalia, Tunisia and Cameroon. On Yemen, it asked "With continuing holes in the Yemeni Central Bank, what if anything is the IMF doing?" IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice read out Inner City Press' question and then said that the IMF is helping to build the Central Bank's capacity amid the humanitarian crisis. Transcript to come. On Somalia, Inner City Press asked of reports that “Somalia owes around $4bn making it almost impossible for Mogadishu to access new funds from the IMF.” The IMF puts the figure at $5.1 billion. What explains the difference, and how could Somalia access new IMF funds?" Rice replied that records were lost in the war and are being reconstructed; for now $5.1 billion is the figure. Again, transcript to come,  - and more on Cameroon and the continued undermining of the Internet and the economy by this big IMF recipient, Paul Biya's government. Before Rice's long Tunisia answer, Inner City Press had asked: "On Tunisia, what is the IMF's comments on its role in imposing austerity on the country since the popular uprising of January 2011? Did the IMF exerted sustained pressure on the Tunisian Central Bank to stop intervening in the currency markets to defend the value of the Tunisian dinar, increasing imports?" The IMF was prepared for this, emphasizing for example that cooking oil will not be subject to the VAT, but sweets and alcohol will. Video and transcript to come. Back on November 30, Inner City Press asked about critiques of the IMF from the Caribbean, about Yemen, Zambia and Kenya. The first three of these were answered. IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice read out Inner City Press' question: "Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has said of the IMF, 'If you care about the Caribbean, you must change the rules of engagement and allow us to help ourselves.' He's said the billions of dollars in Caribbean loans should be reclassified by the IMF. What is the IMF's response?" Rice said Managing Director Lagarde is aware of the criticism from the Caribbean forum a few weeks ago and that a study is underway including of catastrophe bonds but, he said, the IMF cannot currently do the requested reclassifications to make countries eligible for concessionary financing. On Zambia, Rice notes that Inner City Press at the UN had asked, "Treasury Secretary Fredson Yamba has said Zambia expects to host an IMF mission before the end of the year and hopes to have a $1.3 billion loan deal in place in early 2018. 'Come 2018, we must have a final (IMF) programme. It has taken a long time because the parameters have been changing.' What is the IMF's status with Zambia?" Rice said after the pause in August, progress has been made, the interest is there, but some information and clarifications are still awaited. "We are waiting for further data and details on the government's external borrowing plans," he said. On Inner City Press' Yemen question, Rice said the IMF "donor grants will be needed" for the payment of wages and social assistance and that the IMF is willing to help with macro-stability once the conflict is over. But when will that be? Here was and is Inner City Press' Kenya question: In Kenya, IMF rep Jan Mikkelsen is quoted that “discussions about the current programme and what will follow after the expiration in March are expected to begin soon, with the new government taking office. The authorities have indicated that they are interested to continue a programme relationship with the IMF."Has the IMF taken note of, and what is its comment on, the critique of the election by Raila Odinga and the NASA Coalition? Would the IMF also confer with the opposition?" We'll have more on this.  Back on September 28, Inner City Press asked among other things about the IMF negotiating with a reputed money launder in Congo-Brazzaville, and about corruption charges against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar of Pakistan, also in IMF talks. On the former, IMF Deputy Spokesman William Murray said the IMF is again in Brazzaville, for the third time, having a “series of contacts” on financial assessment. He declined to confirm or deny the IMF is talking with Orion Oil's Lucien Ebata, but this is widely known, as is his dealings in cash, via the Panama Papers. We'll have more on this. Inner City Press' Pakistan question was and is: “On Pakistan, it is reported that “the IMF said it had been told by Pakistani officials that the restrictions [on luxury imports] would be removed within a year but Mr Abbasi now says his government was planning to impose more.” Also, what is the IMF comment on the corruption charges against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar?” But when re-submitting through the IMF's online form, with allows only 300 characters, Inner City Press took out “[on luxury imports]” thinking the IMF would know what restrictions were being referred to, since they imposed them. They did not, and did not address the Ishaq Dar corruption allegations. Yet. Watch this site.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On Syria, Draft Resolution Calling For Ceasefire Published by Inner City Press on Patreon

By Matthew Russell Lee, Full on Patreon here

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 – Amid talk that a call for a ceasefire in Syria is unrealistic, Inner City Press on February 14 published the full text of the UN Security Council draft resolution making that call and more, here on Patreon. Some highlights from the Operative Paragraphs: the Security Council

 "Decides that all parties to the Syrian conflict shall immediately abide by a humanitarian pause and cessation of violence throughout Syria, for a period of 30 consecutive days to begin at [00:00 h, (Damascus time) on XX February 2018], [72 hours after the adoption of this resolution], to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded;  Further decides that, 48 hours after the start of the humanitarian pause, all parties to the Syrian conflict shall allow and facilitate weekly United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoys to all requested areas based on United Nations’ assessments of need, in order to allow safe, unimpeded and sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid, including medical and surgical supplies, to the millions of people in need in all parts of Syria, in particular to those 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in acute need, including the 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged locations; Decides moreover that all parties to the conflict shall allow and facilitate unconditional medical evacuations by the United Nations and its implementing partners, based on medical need and urgency, and requests the United Nations and their implementing partners to start undertaking such medical evacuations 48 hours after the start of the humanitarian pause... Endorses the five measures identified by the Emergency Relief Coordinator on 11 January 2018 during his mission to Syria, and calls on all parties to facilitate the implementation of these five measures and others as specified in relevant Security Council resolutions, to ensure principled, sustained and improved humanitarian assistance to Syria in 2018; Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquility, localized ceasefires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law [2139 with updated locations];
OP 8. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution, and on compliance by all relevant parties in Syria within 15 days of adoption of this resolution and thereafter..." We'll have more on this.
 On February 9, after Inner City Press exclusively reported that the UN's top Middle East post is slated for Susanne Rose with only "basic Arabic," Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq refused Inner City Press' questions about the selection process. 
The top UN Political Affairs position belongs to the United States. With Obama-nominee Jeffrey Feltman set to leave by March 31, now Feltman has used his final days to name an ally or protege to head the Middle East and Western Asia Division, to continue his views even under his replacement. It is Susanne Rose, who worked for Feltman in Beirut. But she speaks only "basic Arabic." There is grumbling in DPA - and elsewhere.  
Here's from the letter, by Feltman's deputy Miroslav Jenca since Feltman is in South Korea with Guterres, or to create the illusion of recusal: Rose was "Political and Economic Counselor in Beirut, Middle East Officer in Rome (where she spent the first year as an exchange diplomat at the NATO office of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Staff Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs, and Economic Officer in Trinidad and Tobago.... Susanne speaks French, Italian, Spanish, German, and basic Arabic. She was born in Berkeley, California, and has a 14-month year old Havanese dog named Tartufo." 
Senior staff and diplomats have been asking Inner City Press which American will replace Feltman. On January 25, amid complaints of Guterres' silence and long weekends away, a name emerged leaving some shaking their heads: Dina Powell. "She's perfect," one said of Trump's deputy national security adviser for strategy of whom spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she's "returning home to New York. She’s expected to continue working with the administration on Middle East policy issues from outside the White House." Why not from the UN? (Some now tell Inner City Press she has declined the post.) Inner City Press notes she's been spotted in Davos, where Guterres at the last moment did not go. "Really?" demanded another, alongside a controversial Serbian government presentation in the UN Delegates' Entrance. Stranger things have happened. Guterres gave his "Global Communications" position to an official, Alison Smale, who refuses to answer Press questions even about whistleblowers'complaints about her Department of Public Information. 

Another Brit Martin Griffiths seems destined to take over the UN's Yemen envoy post, perhaps taking with him some staff currently assigned to Staffan de Mistura for Syria. Other Department of Political Affairs posts have already been given away, but not yet announced. Until now.