A United Nations envoy dealing with Niger, Canadian Robert Fowler, has gone missing while driving near the West African country's capital Niamey, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. "We are doing all our best efforts about his whereabouts," he told reporters when asked about it at a news conference. "We are now mobilizing all necessary information networks on this." Earlier a spokesman said the UN had no indication Mr. Fowler, whose car was found on Sunday evening without its three passengers, had been taken hostage. Spokesman Farhan Haq added that the Niger authorities were looking into the matter. "We appreciate their efforts and are working with them," he said.The BBC reports that (at least some) Tuareg rebels have claimed that they have in fact abducted Mr. Fowler, who is also a former Canadian ambassador to the UN. The disappearance occurred far from the rebels' usual base of operations, though, and UN and Niger officials do not even agree whether Mr. Fowler was in the country in his official capacity or on private business. We'll keep you updated. (For more on the Tuareg rebels, check out yesterday's interesting NYT article by Lydia Polgreen. And you can check out their "slick Web site" here.) UPDATE: It appears that Fowler -- "no stranger to conflict zones" -- was kidnapped when returning from a major Nigerien gold mine that is largely owned by a Canadian corporation. I've heard speculation from the ground that, as the mine is widely believed to rely on a shady system of bribing both government officials and rebels, it was no accident that Canadians were targeted. Another possible explanation is that the kidnapping was meant to embarrass Niger's regime just days before national holiday celebrations.
Frankly, if a celebrity isn't genuinely interested in poverty and is simply trying to get good press, there are better ways to do it. Traveling to Darfur or Congo is dangerous, expensive and uncomfortable, and the outhouses have bats, scorpions and camel spiders. But if a celebrity is willing to put up with such challenges, he or she can get public attention in a way that no one else can. I once was on a panel where Angelina's eyes filled up as she spoke of Iraqi refugees she had met in Syria; for anybody who was there, that scene was worth 100 of my columns. And ditto for her speech on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.I, too, witnessed this aforementioned moment when Jolie broke done while discussing an Iraqi child she met. It was at last year's Clinton Global Initiative.
Some Icelandic authorities have suggested that once matters stabilize, the country should give up having an independent currency, and instead either adopt the euro outright or peg the value of the krona firmly to that of the euro. Another possibility, rejected in the past, is to join the European Union as a member nation, a proposal that Icelandic conservatives have opposed. Still, Olli Rehn, the union's commissioner for enlargement, told Agence France-Presse on Monday that Iceland would not find it difficult to be admitted to the union.What is interesting here is that of the countries committing to bail out Iceland, only Denmark and Sweden belong to the European Union--but even Denmark and Sweden do not use the euro as currency. Nevertheless, Iceland's march toward integration seems to be taking one step forward. It is already a Schengen country, meaning that there is no border control between Iceland and the rest of Europe. The next step, seemingly, is to hoist the EU flag in Reykjavik.
Check out this description:
The logo is prominent on the handle!
In comparison, according to the accompanying audio, narrated by reporter Phil Patton, the Beijing torch is "a long, red thin item that resembles a rolled scroll and is decorated by swirling graphics, known as 'happy clouds,' said to reflect 'vivid distance' -- a very good description of how China is presenting itself to the world with this Olympics." was is designed by Lenovo.
The design process for the Vancouver torch has already begun. It's to be the "cleanest and greenest torch ever."
Leaders of 43 nations with nearly 800 million inhabitants inaugurated a "Union for the Mediterranean" on Sunday, meant to bring the northern and southern countries that ring the sea closer together through practical projects dealing with the environment, climate, transportation, immigration and policing. But the meeting was also an opportunity for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to exercise some highly public Middle East diplomacy by bringing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria out of isolation for an Élysée Palace meeting and by playing host to a session between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.Somehow this whole project has managed to be off of my radar up until now, but it should prove an interesting study in whether or not the defined priorities can bring together unlikely allies. The ability of Europeans to use soft power through practically-based international unions to slowly end conflict and spread democracy is exemplified by the success of the European Union, and I hope that this new Mediterranean Union will create the same turn-around in Middle Eastern diplomacy that the European Coal and Steel Community (which later became the EU, of course) created for European diplomacy.