By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 10 -- 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 7, Dujarric called in to the UN Noon Briefing from - where else -- Paris and made much of Ban's visit to part of the MINURSO mission but not its headquarters. Dujarric said there would be a second stage of the trip - to Rabat.
Inner City Press now asks: why did the English language UN transcription of the March 7 briefing include Dujarric Q&A on Western Sahara, here -- while the UN's French language transcription, here, pointed did not?
Is this to please France?
On March 7, Inner City Press asked Dujarric if Ban had even tried to get to MINURSO's headquarters in El Aaiun -- Dujarric didn't answer that -- and if Ban hadn't in his comment distributed on March 6 given Morocco a veto over the referendum promises even in the name of the MINURSO mission.
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?
Dujarric dodged this too, saying that Envoy Christopher Ross should visit Rabat in late March. Inner City Press asked if Ban, now in his final year as SG, will at least ask the "Group of Friends" on Western Sahara, including France with its implicit or secret veto, to allow the promised referendum.
Dujarric said he does not agree France wields a secret veto -- again, no surprise there - but to watch Ban's report to the Security Council in April. We will.
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.
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.