15 May 2012


You can't misunderstand General Robert Mood, even if you tried. The Norwegian senior officer, who is a veteran of several U.N. field assignments, has just been designated as Chief of U.N. Military Observers in Syria. A talented soldier who is similarly a shrewd diplomat, General Mood has served in UNIFIL, Lebanon and Kosovo. The impression he made there was of someone who understands every side's point of view and presents a consensus. That qualified him to return to Oslo as chief of staff of his country's armed forces. He knows Syria very well. He was the Chief Ismac (Israeli Syria Mixed Armistice Commission) Observers Mission from 2009 to 2011. That's a year ago. At that time, he told the Beirut Daily Star that "it would be counter-productive if you acted like a bull in a china shop -- trying to impose your will. That's counter-productive." One of his assets is his reputation -- straightforward, professional, and a straight talker. Charming, but no-nonsense. His strongest point lies in the warm friendships he had established with senior Syrian army officers. That may prove crucial.


Syrian President Bashar Assad is reported by a number of world media of allowing -- if not committing -- murder. His Uncle Rifaat Assad, who had to flee after attempting to replace his own brother, lives very luxuriously in various European capitals, accused by most world media of committing collective bombardment of Hama decades ago. Now we hear of another Assad, Sewar, Bashar's cousin and Rifaat's son who, according to Paris Match, has written a "tender romantic" story about a lawyer working for the United Nations who had a heart transplant as a kid and devotes himself to finding out the reason for that operation after a failed love affair emotionally, if not literally, broke his heart. He also discusses a crime committed by his father. The story was written in French, according to French Channel 24. Sewar, who was raised in Switzerland, is one of 16 -- yes 16! -- brothers and sisters and heads an obscure TV station called "Alamiyyah," the International. He said he was inspired to write the novel after reading "The Little Prince."


Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has his left arm in a sling after a tumble while playing in a diplomat's friendly soccer game over the week-end of 12 May. He has to wear a cast over the next six weeks, according to his Spokesman who stated that otherwise Mr.Ban is "absolutely fine and in great spirits".


Abdel Ghani Jawhar, from group Fatah El-Islam, was considered one of the most notorious explosive experts in Lebanon until he mistakenly blew himself up. He was operating near the Syrian Town of Hama as he prepared an explosive device to use against the Syrian army. He was killed "immediately," according to his comrade "Abu Ali." For years, Jawhar had been an elusive target of the security services of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Time magazine, taking note of his death commented: "When one of Lebanon's most wanted terrorists kills himself, it is cause for at least some sort of grim celebration. But when the chief bomb-maker of the country's most notorious terror group self-detonates while helping rebels fight in Syria, it is cause for concern."


They fight in Lebanon and agree on France. Over 15 members of Lebanon's Parliament were discovered to be holders of French citizenship as they joined in an orderly line-up to vote at the embassy in Beirut. Recent political split between 14 March and 8 March Group (don't try to understand the dates!) vanished inside the diplomatic gates as pro and con (that keeps shifting) chanted jointly the national anthem of another country. France was the mandatory power over Lebanon between 1921 and 1946; many older mountain villages still refer to it as "our merciful mother." Yet, during years of conflict, many politicians are by now citizens of other countries, like Canada, U.K., Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. During a recent visit by the President to Australia, one of the cabinet members who accompanied as part of the Lebanese official delegation was actually born "down under."


We understand that the Secretary General has cancelled his planned visit to Nepal where he would have participated in paying tribute at the hallowed Buddhist site in Lumbini. That site had been enhanced by the first Asian Secretary General Master Thant. There are several questions that would be raised about the harassment by Nepalese authorities of media reporters, especially our former colleague in UN/DPI Kanak Dixit.


Usually the President of the next session of the General Assembly would be clarified by early May. This time, the turn of Eastern Europe, there seems to be a delay. The main contenders are two: Serbian Foreign Minister and Latvia. Although Belgrade's Jeramic has a wide popularity amongst other groups, particularly with the special standing of Serbia's U.N. Ambassador Feodor Starcevic, the Latvians are hanging in, hoping that the forthcoming elections in Serbia may lead to a change of government. Now Jeramic is back in full force.


"I assure you President Barrack Obama has a big stick, a very big stick."
-- U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden



The Gipsy Kings keep going. Three decades of performing around the world yet they still drew a full house crowd, particularly young women, dancing in the aisles and next to their seats. They performed in New York's Beacon Theatre 23 April and unlike several up-and-coming Latino stars, started on time and, like the others, kept the audience enthralled after the show was supposed to end. "Un Amor" was a song favourite, "Ven Ven Ven" was a welcome flamingo. You could also hear their distinct accent. It's "te quiero ma no mas."



"Where there is a man, there's prostitution!"
-- Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, Colombia's Minister of Foreign Affairs


Americans would recognize the song as "How could I ever live without you." Mexican popular group Mana presented it in pop Latin as "Vivir Sin Aire." Both versions are a pleasure. Mana performed at Madison Square Garden mid-April to an audience that knew almost every word of every song. They were touring to introduce their new album. There was the usual standing, dancing crowd, especially when they moved to a makeshift centre stage when they led fans in a nostalgic medley. They started one hour late, but kept running way after closing time.


Though he changed his name from Ron Artest to World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball players continue his aggressive style. He was just prevented from playing in the next seven games for using his elbow to hit another player. A few years ago, he was suspended from playing in 86 games for fighting with other players, and even with fans. Why he called himself World Peace is a puzzle. Perhaps he understands World Peace the way some world leaders do!


When Muammar Qaddafi was killed, most conspiracy theories claimed several foreign heads of state and governments were behind it to avoid the release of embarrassing information. Reports of the Libyan Colonel financing French and U.K. (Tony Blair) politicians, for example, have been appearing regularly in the European press. Getting hold of the "Black Box" was mentioned as an ardent motive. It was then mentioned that Qaddafi's son, Seif Al-Islam, could have some interesting information from that Black Box. Some whispered that actually Security Assistant Saleh Bashir was the one who knows literally where the bodies are buried and to whom millions were dispersed; hence, his safety arrangement during the revolution and his current residence in France under protection. Yet another Black Box holder could be Abdullah Snoussi, Qaddafi's brother-in-law and confidante until the last minute. It was rumoured that he was trapped while trying to arrange a deal in Mauritania (which has a strong security connection with France). Too much talk about individuals with black boxes did not reveal one seriously embarrassing story. Most likely, some stakeholders must have taken hold of the real source; we'll know when the time of real revelations comes!


"We've closed the gap between rich and poor"
-- From "Private Eye"


Don't ask. Don't tell. The newest best spot amongst London's young elite is a nightclub called Bunga Bunga. It is there, for example, that the very popular -- and eligible -- Prince Harry shared a karaoke sing-along with popular blonde British singer Mollie King. (Forget Adele; she's only for the trodden masses!) They left separately, though a determined paparazzi claimed that the young prince was dancing in the street. It's all in a week-end fun night. What's more intriguing is the name. "Bunga Bunga" became an infamously notorious designation of parties given by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It was based on a spinned tale with an African background. What does it mean? Well, we told you some time ago to find out elsewhere!

"TONY 2012" (by Our Ugandan Staffer, Guy the Guerilla):

A video featuring the world's most hated man, the war criminal Blair Tony, has become an internet sensation with over 79 million hits and even more "dislikes." The video argues that Tony, the leader of the notorious Frauds Persistence Army in the troubled third world country of Britain should be allowed to remain at liberty. The International Court told documentary makers that they wanted Tony to speak to them, but they couldn't afford his fees (100,000 pounds per minute. Handshake extra). Young campaigners who have been politicised by the video are now demanding that the United States should intervene to arrest Tony even if it means "invading Britain and waterboarding Cherie Blair to discover his whereabouts."
-- From "Private Eyes"


Promises are easy. The most difficult part is carrying on without having to fulfill them.


In a diplomatic cable from Paris during the Presidential election in France, it was mentioned that a make-up woman by the name of Marina regularly accompanied President Sarkozy "to erase any trace of fatigue on his face," particularly before television appearances. Minimum charge: 34,000 Euros.


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has selected Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh as Under-Secretary General for the Department of Field Support. Since 2009, Ms. Haq has been the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Timor-Leste and Head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). She has previously held the positions of Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, as well as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan and before that as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan. Ms. Haq brings to the position extensive management and operational experience at the senior level, supporting complex mission deployments and transition activities, including crisis management. She was formerly Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director, Bureau of Crisis Prevention & Recovery, at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Headquarters in New York. Ms. Haq has overall 37 years of United Nations career service (19 in the field and 18 at headquarters) and is a seasoned and skilled negotiator as well as consensus-builder. Ms. Haq has two children.


Perhaps Heaven just needed a good drummer. That's how someone who followed "The Band" commented at the passing away of its drummer Levon Helm. The group that changed the sound of American folk music since Woodstock produced hits like "The Night they Drove old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Evangeline," "Take a Load For Free," "I Shall be Released," and "When I Paint my Masterpiece." Their final concert featured top artists like Bob Dylan, Emily Lou Harris, Beattle Ringo Starr, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Neal Young, and others. Levon Helm struggled with a cancer illness during his last years, but kept singing. In "When I Go Away," he insisted that he will be only "going home." "Don't want no sorrow, don't want no cryin'; the sun will shine through the shades, when I go away." Angels will certainly enjoy his music.


"I am a professional contract killer, and demand payment for my work," a professional hitman known as O.A. told the Human Rights Association (IHD) in Adana, southern Turkey. "Last month, I was hired by a criminal gang to kill a businessman called R.B. Terms were agreed, and I was promised a fee of 500,000 liras if I shot him in the head. So next day, I went to his office and shot him in the head, as promised. Unfortunately, R.B. was taken quickly to hospital, and survived the attack, but I had nevertheless fulfilled my side of the contract, by shooting him in the head. Yet now, the gang are refusing to pay me, saying that I did not fulfill the contract, because I did not succeed in killing him. It's shocking." Speaking on behalf of the IHD, Adana Branch Chair Osman Kara told reporters that "this is the first time we have seen anything like this. O.A. tells us that he has not been paid by the gang who hired him, and that his life is now in danger from them. He also named several police officers who he says were involved, and he speaks of corruption in the police force. R.B. has confirmed O.A.'s claims to us, and he has also complained to us about being shot in the head. I hope the court's investigations will shed light on this incident." (Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey, 19/3/2012. Spotter: Brian Rodrigues) from "Private Eye"


He was the first Libyan official to leave with the outbreak of the popular rebellion. Yet, unlike most others, he did not exploit his move for popular gain. Shukri Ghanem, a decent man and honourable patriot, had always depended on his own qualifications, whether in politics, business, or everyday life. Whether as Prime Minister under Qaddafi rule, or Oil Minister, or University Professor elsewhere, he respected others and expected the same for himself. In his self-imposed exile, he selected Vienna mainly because he knew the city well. Besides participating in regular OPEC and U.N. meetings, he resided there for over seven years in the Nineties. On Sunday 28 April his body was found in a boat floating on the Danube River, nearby his house, which accidentally is in the same neighbourhood as the U.N. compound. His Moslem faith teaches that we all belong to God to whom we all shall return. While praying for his soul, the only comment to add, perhaps, is that Shukri Ghanem was a valuable human representative of the decent Libyan people -- by far more decent than those thugs who are trying to kidnap their country's future.


Any proof of cool relations between U.S. President Obama and the media crowd need only have observed the White House Correspondents dinner Saturday 28 April. It was the most boring in recent memory. Habitually, it's fun. The speech by the President and by a professional comedian are loaded with mostly self-deprecating jokes and soft political humour. The U.N. Correspondents Association tried to copy it, successfully for a couple of years until it turned into farce, if not more. Anyway, the atmosphere at this year's WHCD seemed contrived, despite an impressive audience. President Obama's jokes were so cautious that he had to force himself to laugh after each somewhat terse quip. Jimmy Kimmel, the main comedian, seemed nervous and in a hurry. Perhaps it reflected a terse mood in our strangely changing world. Or perhaps comedy and politics don't mix anymore.


Former U.N. Under-Secretary General Jayantha Dhanapala visited New York to attend a conference of PUGWASH, over which he presides. Pugwash Conferences take their name from the location of the first meeting, which was held in 1957 in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada. The stimulus for that gathering was a Manifesto issued in 1955 by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein -- among others -- which called upon scientists of all political persuasions to assemble to discuss the threat posed to civilization by the advent of thermonuclear weapons. Since then, a series of meetings were held at various locations around the world with a varied number of prominent participants. By late 2002, there have been over 275 Pugwash Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops, with a total attendance of over 10,000 (there are now in the world over 3500 "Pugwashites," namely individuals who have attended a Pugwash meeting and are hence considered associated with Pugwash and receive their newsletter). The Conferences, which are held annually, are attended by 150 to 250 people; the more frequently topical Workshops and Symposia typically involve 30 to 50 participants. A basic rule is that participation is by individuals in their private capacity, not as representatives of governments or organizations.


"According to police reports, a 42-year-old man was locked in a heated altercation with a 41-year-old woman over a parking spot. The unnamed woman, who was picking up her child from school, sought to leave her bicycle outside the man's shop. When he refused, the two began quarreling...At some point, the woman latched on to the proprietor's privates and refused to let go until the man passed out..." The stubborn man was driven to a hospital and the determined woman kept her bicycle parking spot.


A friend once started a dinner speech by announcing: "One million dollars, 2 million, 3 million..." then paused to continue: "Now that I've got your attention..." Actually, $5 million is the same amount that former Secretary General of the Arab League Amre Moussa will get as a bonus to be paid by Arab states. The Lebanese government has just received a note requesting payment of $100,000 as its share. Beirut sought to double-check whether its rate in the League's budget was actually 1% not 2%. Apparently, it was ready to pay only $50,000, but may have to fork out the full amount, in an effort at aiming to please a potential future President of Egypt.


Most sincere condolences to our friend and colleague Margaret Yates, U.N. Television Producer. After the sorrow of losing her beloved brother last December, she just lost her father in April. While still valiantly trying to perform her functions professionally, Maggie, always sensitive and thoughtful, has been naturally shocked by her double loss. Who wouldn't? We pray with her for her lost loved ones and hope that she will overcome her keen loss with her faith and affection of her friends and colleagues.


There are so many mysteries about the Middle Eastern Druze sect. Apart from the fact that they are Moslem, very little else is known to the outside world. What is known to the Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians is that Druze's spiritual leaders are outstandingly dignified and qualified by public consensus, not by government or administrative decree. Their most revered spiritual leaders are distinguished by wearing a round head turban, traditionally placed upon his head by another popularly recognized authority. A most revered figure by all Lebanese and Druze around the world, Sheikh Abu Mohammad Jawad Walieddine has just passed away at his hometown of Baaqline, in the Chouf region, a mainly Druze stronghold. Known as the "Lion of the Shouf" for his courage, he was a learned authority with unflinching integrity and devotion to spiritual enlightenment. During the prolonged civil war, he was living in his house without any guard and his door was always open to visitors at all times.


Chinese Culture and Civilization is an interesting publishing project with Yale University Press and the China International Publishing Group for a series known as "Chinese Culture and Civilization." One of its first productions was an impressive illustrated volumn on "three thousand years of Chinese Paintings." Our attention was drawn to it by our relentlessly active Ambassador, Joseph Verner Reed, who had just become Dean; the longest serving U.N. Under-Secretary General. His work with that group did not reflect its significance, but is also indicative of the wide variety of Ambassador Reid's refined interests.


Nobel Laureate, former IAEA Director General Mohammad El Baradei was a popular figure amongst the crowds that toppled President Mubarak at Cairo's Tahir Square. Politically, however, he was outmaneuvered by the Military Council and by Islamist gorups angling to take over after an election drafted by some of their sympathizers. Now, El Baradei decided to enter Egyptian politics full-time. Early May he announced the formation of a party. "Al Dustur Al Jashid" - the New Constitution -- to fight for democratic values at a time when "attempts to isolate and absurb politics are leading to misunderstandings amongst Egyptians." Egypt's future seemed unclear, he said, and his party aimed at building a constitutional inclusive state. Better late than never.


The exodus from Al-Jazeera continues. Reporters quitting in protest against fabrication of news and use of deceptively fake videos increased by five more during the month of May. They included correspondents in Moscow, Mohammad Hassan, Director of Paris office, Ziad Tarmush, Director of Ryadh office Majid Hujailan, and two correspondents in Afghanistan Aboubakr Yunes, and Welivullah Shahim.


Regina Pawlik, who made her way -- and impact -- through the ranks of varied management postings, has just returned to U.N. Headquarters. She had served admirably in Personnel in New York and in Field missions where she gained the respect and affection of her colleagues for her thoughtful approach and dedicated teamwork. Most recently, she headed the Administration at the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Latin America, known generally as ECLAC, in Santiago, Chile. Her new assignment is Executive Secretary, International Civil Service Commission. Well done and good luck.


(Photo by Olivia Harris, Reuters / Landov)