- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Ice cubes and Eskimos
It was almost exactly three years ago that we received an irresistible story offer from a free-lancer we had never heard from before: A woman named Lucy Jones was offering an item about a man who was selling ice cubes in Greenland.
Just about everyone, I presume, has heard the old joke about a salesman so good that he could sell iceboxes to Eskimos. Here was a case of a man who had actually done it.
The story, which we carried in October 1999, focused on a Frank Rasmussen, whose company had sold more than 6 tons of ice in the previous year to Greenlanders 80 percent of whom are Eskimos.
The key, Miss Jones explained, was that his ice cubes were clean and fresh-tasting when drinking Schnapps with a whale steak, while the ice that covers their island and floats up on the beaches is dirty and unappealing.
Miss Jones who is no relation to the author of this column contacted us again the following summer from El Salvador, where she offered us a story on the export of Los Angeles street gangs to that Central American nation.
We didn't hear from her again until the spring of last year, when she started filing stories from the Central African Republic a remote country rarely heard from since the overthrow in 1979 of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a flamboyant dictator who once spent an entire year's gross national product on his own coronation.
With her sharp eye for a story angle and good writing skills, Miss Jones managed to sell us more than a dozen stories from a country that otherwise we might never have mentioned.
That now is over. Miss Jones e-mailed last week to say she had been forced to leave the country amid threats of being taken to court.
Her "crime," she explained, had been to report that President Ange-Felix Patasse had recently signed a deal giving Libya the right to extract oil and diamonds from his country for the next 99 years.
There doesn't seem to be any doubt that the facts in the article were correct; the story was based on information provided by the minister of mines himself, Andre Dorogo, in an interview granted after two months of patient effort by Miss Jones.
But the timing of the story appears to have embarrassed the government, which at the time of publication was holding meetings with American oil companies and negotiating a new loan from the World Bank.

Out of Africa
Miss Jones first knew there was a problem when she got a phone call from the Ministry of Mines the day after the article appeared. "You have to come now," said the minister's chef de Cabinet, sounding harassed.
She had expected a private meeting with officials but was surprised to find many of the country's radio and television reporters gathered at the ministry offices when she arrived.
Miss Jones soon found herself the main exhibit at a televised news conference, where the minister accused her of "destabilizing the state."
Given a chance to respond, she read some extracts from the interview, stressing that the minister himself had been the source of her information. The explanation carried no weight.
Following the news conference, Miss Jones discussed her situation with colleagues and other expatriates and decided the wisest course was to leave the country.
"That evening, the energetic U.S. ambassador came for dinner. We ate stuffed pigeon," Miss Jones told us in an e-mail.
"As we opened the door for her to leave, her driver switched on his engine. 'If anyone came looking for you they'll be able to see you easily from down there,' the ambassador said, referring to the pitch-black pot-holed street.
"It was never clear whether I was in any danger," Miss Jones continued. "Probably not. But strange things have happened to expatriates in the Central African Republic.
"Two years ago, the Libyan ambassador was murdered outside a popular African restaurant. Last summer, a French U.N. employee, in charge of the security of U.N. personnel, was assassinated while driving after the curfew to help someone."
In Miss Jones' case, there were no further problems, and she was able to fly to London without incident after a nostalgic final drive through the capital, Bangui.
We can't help but wonder where she will turn up next.
David Jones is foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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