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Beyond the World news headlines

UN tells Mbeki he got it wrong on Ivory Coast

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    UN peacekeeper in Ivory Coast in April 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

This week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, defended the United Nations’ record on Ivory Coast.  In a highly unusual public rebuttal, Nambiar told former South African President and African Union mediator for the Ivory Coast conflict, Thabo Mbeki, that it was he – not the international community — who got it wrong in the world’s top cocoa producer.

In April, Ivory Coast’s long-time President Laurent Gbagbo was ousted from power by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who won the second round of a U.N.-certified election in November 2010, with the aid of French and U.N. troops. According to Mbeki — who has also attempted to mediate in conflicts in Sudan and Zimbabwe – there never should have been an election last fall in the country that was once the economic powerhouse of West Africa.

Mbeki wrote in an article published by Foreign Policy magazine at the end of April: “The objective reality is that the Ivorian presidential elections should not have been held when they were held. It was perfectly foreseeable that they would further entrench the very conflict it was suggested they would end.”

Ivory Coast was split in two by the 2002-3 civil war and the failure to disarm the northern rebels meant the country held an election last year with two rival armies in place, leading to a new outbreak of hostilities when Gbagbo rejected the internationally-accepted election results.

UN sends mixed signals on civilian deaths in Libya

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The United Nations has been sending mixed signals lately about NATO’s record with civilian casualties in the alliance’s sixth month of air strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops and military sites. U.N. officials and diplomats said it was hardly surprising that different senior officials at the world body are finding it hard to keep a consistent line on the conflict, which, back in March, most of them had hoped would be over in a few weeks. 

But it has dragged on. Now Gaddafi’s government is complaining about what it says are mounting civilian casualties caused by NATO bombs, many of them children. Diplomats from alliance members acknowledge that there have been some civilian casualties, which they regret. But they question some of the figures that have been coming out of Tripoli. Libya’s state television, which was targeted by NATO late last month, regularly broadcasts gory images of blood-soaked bodies it says are civilians being pulled from rubble after NATO bomb attacks.

UNsensational? Five more years of Ban Ki-moon

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U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

It’s hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it’s even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq “illegal.” As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: “It’s not as if he’s lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him.”

Indian minister plays musical speeches at UN council

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Those who spend much of their working week listening to speeches at the United Nations — U.N. correspondents, for example — might be forgiven for thinking there’s not much difference between most of them.

UN-ASSEMBLY/But it’s seldom you get as dramatic an illustration of this as happened on Feb. 11 when India’s Foreign Minister began inadvertently reading out to the Security Council a speech written for another country’s delegate without anyone, including himself, initially realizing anything was amiss.

WikiLeaks Scandal: Is the United Nations a Den of Spies?

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has dismissed suggestions that her diplomats are part-time spies, as suggested by the latest batch of documents released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
 
“Let me be very clear — our diplomats are just that, they’re diplomats,” Rice told reporters at the United Nations where she was peppered with questions about the latest chapter in the WikiLeaks scandal. “Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests and work to find common solutions to complex problems.”
 
She didn’t exactly deny the charges of espionage. But the top U.S. diplomat in New York did reject the idea that there would be any diplomatic fallout from the release of thousands of documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which have been published by The Guardian and other newspapers.
 
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by The Guardian shows how the State Department instructed diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere around the world to collect credit card and frequent flyer numbers, work schedules and biometric data for U.N. officials and diplomats. Among the personalities of interest was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as were the ambassadors of the other 14 Security Council member states. 
 
There is nothing new about espionage at the United Nations, but it’s always embarrassing when classified documents proving it happens surface in the media.
 
Most Security Council envoys declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents as they headed into the council chambers on Monday for a meeting on North Korea. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, told reporters, “Surprise, surprise.”
 
Churkin should know. One of the diplomats in his charge was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile Russian espionage case in the United States in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for Moscow. The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
    
And then there was the man known as “Comrade J”, a Russian spy based in New York from 1995 to 2000. Working out of Russia’s U.N. mission, Comrade J directed Russian espionage activity in New York City and personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. According to a book about his exploits, Comrade J eventually became a double agent for the FBI.
 
Nor does the history of U.N. espionage end there. In 2004, a former British cabinet minister revealed that British intelligence agents had spied on Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor Kofi Annan, who fell afoul of Washington and London by opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 
    
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also the victim of a phone-bugging operation, according to media reports from 2004. He had also opposed the invasion of Iraq and angered the United States by saying that their intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged revival of his nuclear arms program was not only incorrect but partly based on falsified evidence. U.S. officials pored over transcripts of ElBaradei’s telephone intercepts in an attempt to secure evidence of mistakes that could be used to oust him from his post, the reports said. Not only did they fail to unseat him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Macedonia and Greece could look to EU for help

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“What’s in a name?” asked love-struck Juliet by way of justifying her love for Romeo, whose Montague family was so loathed by the Capulets.

For Macedonia, rather a lot.

The name has been fought over by Greece and “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for nearly two decades. Now European Union diplomats are telling them to ask for mediation help from the bloc. It may be the only chance, they say, for the two countries to solve a dispute that is preventing Macedonia from joining NATO and starting accession negotiations with the EU.

Liu who? UN’s Ban silent on rights in talks with China’s Hu

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(Updates to include U.N. statement on Ban in China)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is gearing up for a campaign to retain his seat as the United Nations’ top official for another five years, U.N. diplomats say. This, rights advocates suggest, may be the reason he sidestepped the issue of human rights during his latest visit to China, his fourth in as many years. Ban did not raise the issue of Beijing’s alleged rights abuses during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday. Nor did he call on the Chinese government to release jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“It is correct he did not discuss human rights (in China),” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York, adding that he also did not raise the issue of Liu’s detention. He noted that the secretary-general’s Oct. 8 statement on the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “still stands.”

UN General Assembly: NYC’s annual headache

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UN-ASSEMBLY/For world leaders, foreign ministers and diplomats from the 192 members of the United Nations, the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly is a chance to stand at the iconic dark green marble podium and trumpet their countries’ successes, voice their concerns — or occasionally to attack their enemies. (Such as when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called former U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” during his address to the assembly.)

But for people who live or work in, or travel through, the east side of midtown Manhattan, the General Assembly is a headache that runs for three or four days every September. It causes regular traffic jams as official motorcades speed through the city. It’s difficult to book a hotel as prices soar and availability plummets. Scores of heavily armed NYPD officers line the streets. The city’s trademark incessant honking of car horns is punctuated with the roar of helicopters overhead scanning for suspicious activity on the streets below. NYPD checkpoints are set up to screen everyone trying to get within a few hundred yards of U.N. headquarters and those without proof that they live or work in the area are told to get lost.

from Environment Forum:

Attack survivors at UN: Save the sharks!

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THAILAND/Jaws needs help.

Nine shark-attack survivors from five countries headed for the United Nations in New York City to plead the case for shark preservation. U.N. member countries could take this issue up this week as part of an annual resolution on sustainable fisheries. They'll also be reviewing the Millennium Development Goals -- a long-range set of global targets that includes stemming the loss of biodiversity, including sharks.

"I'm very thankful to be alive," said Krishna Thompson, a Wall Street banker who lost his left leg in a shark attack while visiting the Bahamas in 2001.  “I have learned to appreciate all of God’s living creatures. Sharks are an apex predator in the ocean. Whether they continue to live  affects how we as people live on this Earth. I feel that one of the reasons why I am alive today is to help the environment and help support shark conservation.”

U.N. plays down “guidance” on Kashmir

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U.N. chief Ban Ki-moons spokesman says Ban never said a word about Kashmir.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's spokesman says "guidance" on Kashmir was not an official statement from Ban

(Updated August 6, 2010 at 5:05 p.m. EDT with new remarks from U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.)

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