By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 5 -- Why can't UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon go to El Aaiun in Western Sahara, even to visit the headquarters of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara?
On February 29, Inner City Press directly asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who replied that Ban's trip will be in two parts -- it's just that when the El Aaiun portion will happen is not known.
On March 6, Ban Ki-moon (provided by the UN in French only)
"j’ai aussi rencontré les membres du personnel de la MINURSO, qui font preuve d’un grand dévouement. Ils sont prêts à aider à organiser un référendum s’il y a un accord entre les parties. Je me suis rendu dans plusieurs sites, et je compte aller prochainement au quartier général de la mission, à Laayoune, au Sahara occidental."
Ban met staff of MINURSO - but not at its headquarters in El Aaiun - and said they are ready, after decades, to help organize a referendum IF there is an agreement between the parties. So Morocco has a veto?
Still, many long suffering Saharawis say even this half-visit by Ban Ki-moon is better than nothing. We'll see.
On March 5, Ban Ki-moon said he was in the regin "to visit the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). I will visit the team site in Bir Lahlou, as well as personnel performing vital demining activities. I saw the remarkable and demanding work the Mission is doing in harsh conditions of the Hammada. I also expect to visit the headquarters of MINURSO in Laayoune, Western Sahara, soon."
When? And why not say when he's not doing in now? And why he canceled in November (on the off chance he could go to North Korea. Priorities.)
Ban also said, "I have been heartened by the faith Sahrawis people put in the UN, its principles, and international law." If true, has the faith paid off?
Back on March 2, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq why Ban is not going, while wanly claiming he has the right to do. UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: On the Western Sahara, I wanted to ask, just to really understand clearly why the Secretary-General would be going so close to the headquarters of MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] in Laayoune but not going there. And I just… I guess I want you to confirm that his reason for not going at this time and saying that he'll go at a later time is because, in the absence of the king going, he feels that he can't go or shouldn't go. Why is he not going… if he's writing a report in April about the Mission, why isn't he going to its headquarters? What is the reason?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General himself discussed some of this at his press conference yesterday in Spain. So, I would refer you to what the Secretary-General himself said. But, one thing I'd like to underscore is that, as a matter of principle, the Secretary-General should be free to visit UN peace operations at the time of his choosing, and that is what he will do.
Question: But, how do you assert that principle without actually doing it? Has there been… said otherwise, is there any other Mission in the UN peacekeeping world where the Secretary-General would only visit if the Head of State or king were present in the country and permitted it?
Deputy Spokesman: The bottom line is, wherever he visits, the Secretary-General tries to make the appropriate arrangements so that the objectives of his visit will succeed. He wants all of his trips to achieve actual goals, and that is what he times his trips for.
Question: And what is his goal here, a referendum?
Deputy Spokesman: His goal is a resolution by all parties of the issue concerning Western Sahara. Yeah?
Inner City Press asked if it will happen before Ban's April report. Dujarric's answer, as is so often the case, was unclear, seemingly intentionally so.
Ban was supposed to go in November 2015 but he canceled it, thinking he could get more political - read, South Korea electoral -- play by going to North Korea. But then North Korea turned him down.
On February 25, Inner City Press asked Dujarric about issues including Western Sahara, after three days reporting on the UN from outside after Ban's head of Communications Cristina Gallach threw Inner City Press out without due process: petition here; weird pro Morocco spin on the ouster, here.
Now ahead of Ban's March 1 stop in Spain - will Gallach be there? - there is pick up of the fact that Gallach is Spain's highest UN official, and that she ousted the Press from the UN.
Highest Spanish #UN official @cristinagallach removes accreditation of the most critical journalist@innercitypresshttps://t.co/4Tj8Ud4UrD— Ignacio Cembrero (@icembrero) February 27, 2016
Will it be resolved by, or come to head on, March 1? In defense of Ban and Gallach, anonymous troll account has taken to tweeting, now at Spanish journalists, that Gallach is fine and didn't throw Inner City Press out of the UN on two hours notice without once speaking to it. But those are the fact. Among the new troll account's followers are Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric and four UNCA board members, plus Reuters bureau chief Louis Charbonneau, who has a history with this,see here.
On February 26, Dujarric said, "the Secretary-General's right to visit any peacekeeping mission, but there is the de facto authorities in that area would need to provide the clearance for the plane to land."
So, he really DOESN'T have the right, and isn't really pushing for it. Inner City Press on February 26 asked Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask what the Secretary-General's goals are for this Western Sahara trip. What is he seeking to come out of it? Does he… would he like to see a referendum with independence as a goal? What's he go into it looking at? Thanks.
Spokesman Dujarric: Obviously, the… you know, a lot… a large focus will be on the humanitarian situation. He'll be visiting the camps near Tindouf, and it is also part of his preparation, obviously… he will report on the trip in his upcoming report, which is scheduled for April.
Humanitarian,? We'll have more on this.
We'll see. UN President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft announced a trip to Europe and Morocco; particularly as the bribery case against former PGA John Ashe proceeds, with two guilty pleas and also indicted former Dominican Republic Deputy Permanent Representative (and South South News executive) Francis Lorenzo found to NOT have immunity, taking Moroccon government funding for a trip to Morocco with a Morocco-provided staffer, particularly (but not only) if not addressing the obvious issue of Western Sahara, seems ill-advised. We'll have more on this.
Why is this not covered more? Well, Lorenzo's (and also indicted Ng Lap Seng's) South South News gave tens of thousands of dollars to the UN Correspondents Association - where Lykketoft at least early in his term held his “press” events, and which more recently got the Office of the UN Spokesperson to throw the Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, amid these corruption questions. We'll have more on this, too.
Since the criminal complaint, Inner City Press has asked Ban's spokespeople for basic information, and has been rebuffed. Most recently, both the UN Development Program and Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric (previously of UNDP) have refused to provide even a copy of the agreement signed by Ng, UNDP's Teresa Liu and Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
Inner City Press reported that UNDP was asking corporations for $100,000 to be seated next to heads of state by UNDP. Closer to Ban, literally, the UN Correspondents Association (which previously took money from Ng's media vehicle, then gave it an UNCA Award and Ng a photo op with Ban) now offers seats at the VIP table, next to Ban, for $6,000 (half table) or $12,000 (full table). By most definitions, this is corruption.
Mogen Lykketoft, meanwhile, couldn't bring himself to say Ashe's name, only referring to the President of the 68th General Assembly session. Lykketoft, who allowed his Office to be used for fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt to campaign for the top spot in the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, said he will be making reform proposals. We will be there - with questions for Lykketoft.
Ban again mentioned what he told Inner City Press at his last stakeout, a task force under his chef of staff Susana Malcorra. But as Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Dujarric, with all due respect, Malcorra accepted one of Ng's South South Awards, for Ban. And as note, Gallach went. We'll have more on this.