By Matthew Russell Lee
February 12, 2014 [UNITED NATIONS] — On South Sudan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today issued a 200-word statement, with not a word about the Ugandan troops invited in by Salva Kiir leaving the country. It’s a question that Inner City Press put to Ban’s head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous at what purported to be a Q&A media stakeout on February 11, but at which Ladsous refused to answer any questions.
As noted he should also have answered about what Ban’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky had said at the February 11 noon briefing: “last week, unexploded cluster bomblets were found along the Juba-Bor road in the area of Malek, 16 kilometres south of Bor.”
Because the word “unexploded” was left unexplained, by Nesirky and then at what was supposed to be a stakeout by Ladsous, some wondered if these could be cluster bombs dating from the Sudan – South Sudan conflict. Now Ban Ki-moon says he “condemns the use in the South Sudan conflict of cluster bombs, remnants of which were found last week by the United Nations Mine Action Service, on the Juba-Bor road, Jonglei State.”
Does this mean the UN has evidence of cluster bombs being used in recent months? In a less than transparent way, Ban lunched on February 11 with “a group of journalists” and doled out quotes only some of which were, after a request for a tape and explanation from the Free UN Coalition for Access, emailed around, without any explanation of the omissions.
Other information was withheld. Of the attendees — the board of theUnited Nations Correspondents Association which has come to function as the UN’s Censorship Alliance — it seems not a one published anything from Ban about South Sudan.
Here’s another question, which Inner City Press asked Nesirky on February 11 at noon, not yet knowing of Ban’s untransparent spoon-fed UNCA lunch: why did the UN work with Salva Kiir’s police around the Tomping Camp in Juba, while claiming to be impartial and even asking to be part of the cessation of hostilities verification? From the February 11 transcript:
Inner City Press: On South Sudan, General Taban Deng Gai, who is one of the opposition figures that Mr. Ladsous met with, has said that the UN camp… refugee camp in Juba, was surrounded by the [Sudan People’s Liberation] army, that vehicles were taken, toilets that were built for [internally displaced persons] were destroyed, and that, essentially, the Government there is requesting to screen everyone in the camp to view if they’re part of the opposition. Is that true? And if so, what’s the response?
Spokesperson Nesirky: No, it’s not true.
Inner City Press: What’s happened? There’s nothing to it?
Spokesperson Nesirky: I’m just about to tell you, Matthew. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has taken a series of steps to strengthen security in relation to Protection of Civilians sites within the Mission’s compounds. Security problems have continued to cause serious concern at the gates and in the vicinity of the UNMISS compounds.
On Monday, in other words, yesterday, the South Sudan National Police Service, therefore, conducted an operation outside the compound in Tomping, Juba. The operation was aimed at increasing security through searching for weapons, taking care of vehicles that could be a security threat and dismantling sale stands and liquor bars involved in illegal activity.
The operation was led by the South Sudanese police with the support of 50 UN police officers. At no point did the South Sudan Government troops surround the UNMISS compound, and neither was the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) involved in the operation.
Inner City Press: Is the police under Salva Kiir? I mean, I guess that’s what I wondered. What would you say to those that who’d say, in a dispute like this, if you want to be monitoring a ceasefire, that to be with the Government side–
Spokesperson: My answer… your question was: “Was the compound surrounded by the SPLA?” And my clear answer to that is: “No, it was not.” Okay, other questions please.
UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous came to the Security Council stakeout on February 11 and his job was to answer such questions. But he took no questions at all.
Inner City Press asked, “What is the UN’s position on the Uganda troops?” Ladsous walked away, not with his former spokesperson Kieran Dwyer who defended this practice (video here), but with Nick Birnback, who previously served as spokesperson for Ladsous’ predecessors Jean-Marie Guehenno and Alain Le Roy, both of whom routinely answered tougher questions than the ones Ladsous has claimed are insulting.
At the February 11 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky about the UN taking sides with Kiir’s forces around the Tompkin camp. Inner City Press quoted Taban Deng Gai that it was SPLA; Nesirky said no, it was the police. But don’t they, too, work under Kiir? Is the UN giving up on being impartial?
More details are needed about the events around the Tomping Camp, and about the cluster bombs Nesirky said the UN found on the road to Bor. But the head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous is allowed to answer no questions. As he has shown in the past, perhaps if Agence France Presse was there. It is pathetic. It has been noted that in today’s UN, Russian and Chinese diplomats and officials don’t play it this way. But Ladsous for now is allowed to.
Reporting, however, will continue. On February 10, asked about Uganda, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told Inner City Press, “I don’t have anything about the Ugandan forces that remain in the country.”
After the US on February 8 as reported here urged “the redeployment or phases withdrawal of foreign forces” from South Sudan, Uganda has rejected the call.
Ugandan Lt Col Paddy Ankunda pointedly said, “We went to help South Sudanese people when everybody else ran away. Now here they are giving us orders.”
Using Bor for his argument, Ankunda tweeted, “Does somebody out there still remember that Bor town has changed hands 4 times? Before they ask for UPDF withdraw?”
Imagine that argument transposed to Syria. Now what?
As to the United Nations Ankunda also tweeted back on February 4, along with one on circumcision, “Why does the UN continue to create a bad and false impression of Uganda’s role in peace efforts in the region? Very frustrating.”
The regional reference was to the Great Lakes, and seemingly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions Group of Experts. But this willingness to “shoot back” at the UN perhaps explains the UN’s continued silence (though not the disparity with Rwanda – another story.)
As happened again on February 10, when Inner City Press has asked the UN for its position on if the Ugandan troops should stay or should they go, the UN has declined comment. Some link this to UNMISS chief Hilde Johnson’s support for Salva Kiir, who invited the Uganda troops in to retake Bor and Bentui from Riek Machar’s forces.
On February 8 US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki as notedissued a statement that began, “We are deeply concerned by reports of violations by both the Government of South Sudan and anti-government forces of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement that was signed in Addis Ababa on January 23. We urge the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces invited by either side.” (The full statement went onlinehere.)
This last would seem to directly apply to the Ugandan forces. Given how closely — and quickly, as in the case of disinviting Iran to the Syria talks in Montreux — Ban Ki-moon’s UN follows the US’ positions, can it be long before Hilde Johnson and UNMISS belatedly call on the Ugandans to leave? Then again, now Uganda has shot back. So we’ll see — including if and how it is addressed by the US State Department, given Uganda’s response.
Now that Kiir says he may still prosecute even the seven released opposition leaders for treason, Inner City Press on February 7 asked the UN’s spokesperson Farhan Haq for the UN’s view:
Inner City Press: Salva Kiir had released 7 of those 11 high-profile SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement], former SPLM, detainees. But now he seems to have announced that the seven he did release, and there’s four still in detention, the seven that were released will still be tried for treason. And I wanted to know, given the UN’s role in trying to put an end to the rift there, does the UN think… I think the UN sort of congratulated the release, does them going on trial for treason seem like a productive step in bringing about reconciliation in the country?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: We’ll have to monitor exactly what’s happening with the trial process and make sure that any legal processes are taken carefully and follow due process.
Does that mean prosecution for treason is viewed as fine? The South Sudan trip of UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous ended, the UN announced on February 3, saying he met with Salva Kiir but no mention of anyone in the opposition.
Inner City Press asked how, then, the UN could be viewed as impartial much less a monitor of the at-best shaky cessation of hostilities agreement. Inner City Press also asked UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky about photographs of Kiir’s SPLA soldiers equipped with UNICEF backpacks.
Nesirky said such use would be inappropriate. Video here, from Minute 20:36. Inner City Press continues to await a requested comment or explanation from UNICEF. An eagle eyed reader of Inner City Pressspotted a “UK backpack,” so that’s being inquired into as well.
Ladsous meeting only with Kiir seems tone-deaf, particularly amid reports that Kiir’s SPLA — perhaps with UNICEF equipment — destroyed Machar’s birthplace of Leer.
In South Sudan a spokesperson for Riek Machar, Lul Ruai Koang, has said that the army of Salva Kiir has taken and destroyed Leer in Unity State, in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa.
Leer is Machar’s birthplace. Koang said “the latest destruction of Leer town… has no strategic, operational or tactical importance,” and that Kiir derived vengeful “satisfaction” from it being burned down.
Doctors Without Borders MSF has said, “There are no longer any patients or staff left at Leer hospital.” It seems, however, that the UN has said nothing. The head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous during his visit is set to meet only “with senior [Kiir] Government officials.” This is hardly impartial. The line is: leering at the re-taking of Leer?
Previously, James Gatdet Dak, has accused the Ugandan troops of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa and attacking the Machar forces around Bor in Jonglei state.
On January 31 Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq to state any UN view on the Ugandan troops continued presence in South Sudan and any UN role in monitoring the cessation of hostilities agreement.
Haq said that UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, in South Sudan on February 2, will meet with “senior Government officials.”
Well, if that’s all he meets with, what role COULD his UN Peacekeeping have in impartial monitoring? It’s like in the DRC: his UN Peacekeeping takes sides, based at least there on history. From the UN transcript, video here and embedded below:
Inner City Press: South Sudan, first, I wanted to know whether there’s any UN view of Riek Machar saying he stands to be charged with treason and that will set back all the, what was agreed in Addis. And I want to know, does the UN think that at this point charging or threatening to charge Mr. Machar with treason is productive? And also whether the UN agrees with Norway, which is one of this troika group, saying that the Ugandan… they believe at this point that the Ugandan troops that assisted the SPLA in retaking cities should leave. And finally, is there a UN role in monitoring of what was agreed in Addis? I know that you said Mr. Ladsous will be there and will be discussing… I didn’t hear the phrasing… is there a UN role in monitoring what was agreed to?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Yes, in terms of what I just read, yes. He’ll meet with senior Government officials to discuss the implementation of the recently signed ceasefire agreement and that will be one of his tasks. We’ll provide updates when we get them of his trip. Regarding the monitoring mechanism, I believe earlier this week we stressed the importance of having a monitoring mechanism, and I said at that point that the UN Mission in South Sudan — UNMISS —would try to assist as needed for the work of the monitors. But this is a separate monitoring mechanism that’s being set up.
Inner City Press: So will he meet with the other side, say, Mr. Machar, or the other side that reached the agreement in Addis?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll try to provide you with some details of his meetings once we get them. As I said just now, I just had the announcement of his trip. But we’ll try to do that. Certainly, he’s trying to meet with all parties and we hope that the parties continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement and work with each other and we would urge them to refrain from any unhelpful actions.
We’ll see what updates the UN and UN Peacekeeping actually give.
UN envoy in Juba Hilde Johnson of Norway, closely aligned with Kiir, has during the crisis been substantially lower profile than her deputy Tony Lanzer. On January 31 Inner City Press asked if the UN (and Hilde Johnson) share the view of Norway, that Uganda’s troops which helped dislodge Machar’s from Bor and Bentiu should now leave South Sudan. Haq did not answer this either.
So what is the UN doing in South Sudan? For example, what has the UN Development Program accomplished? A close observer opines, as to constitutional review, that UNDP “funded the process including the commission yet the process was never inclusive. Its members were mainly individuals from the ruling party. They supported the same constitution that gave powers to the President and they reported its completion as a success.” Sounds like the UN…
Right before the South Sudan cessation of hostilities (and cessation of “hostile media”) deal was signed, Inner City Press asked Haq about the deal, and allegations against the UNMISS mission. Video here and embedded below.
The signed deal, we note, has as one of three IGAD Special Envoys the Sudanese General Mohamed Ahmed Dabi, whose role in Syria in 2011 for the Arab League gave rise to much criticism. Look at him now.
Inner City Press asked UN Security Council president Jordan’s Senior Deputy Permanent Representative if the UN would have any role under the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism. He wasn’t aware of you. His summary said the members of the Security Council “condemned the accusations” against UNMISS. One wondered: what if they’re true?
In his noon briefing response, Haq said the UN was “monitoring” the talks. He refused to comment on the allegations, calling them statements by South Sudanese officials. But what about the underlying facts? Did the UN return government vehicles? Did a UN staff member send text messages for rebels?
Haq would not answer. He referred back to his comments of two days before — which said the government minister of information was banned from entering an UNMISS camp not only for arms, but also cameras. Could the cessation of hostile media policy be in place?
That the UN banned from one of its bases a South Sudan minister citing his armed guards is one thing. But the UN has also cited that the minister’s party had cameras. What’s wrong with that? Especially when the UN publishes its own photographs of those inside the camps?
Inner City Press on January 21 asked deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq to confirm that the Minister was blocked. Haq confirmed it, citing both arms and cameras. Video here.
Inner City Press asked, what’s wrong with cameras? It and the Free UN Coalition for Access have protests against various forms of attempted censorship by and at the UN. Haq backed off on cameras. But he’d said what he said, and not improvising: it was a written script. So what gives?
With Uganda bragging of its role in re-taking Bor in South Sudan, the marginalization and double standards of the UN are ever more in focus.
For week the Press asked the UN about Ugandan troops’ presence in South Sudan, and if the UN as elsewhere at least called for restraint in the re-taking of population centers.
The UN dodged the questions, as recently as January 16 saying the Ugandans’ presence — offensive as now confirmed — was just a bilateral matter between governments, and saying its focus is on protecting civilians in its bases.
What is the message of Uganda bragging of having helped Salva Kiir retake Bor from rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar? What is the UN’s role, if any, in the “cessation of hostilities” talks in Addis Ababa? The UN on those wouldn’t even call for more inclusion of women, as it has for example on the Syria talks in Switzerland. We’ll have more on this.
In South Sudan, the lack of transparency by UN Peacekeeping does not serve it. On December 30, Department of Peacekeeping Operations chief Herve Ladsous admonished South Sudan to not put in “caveat” on accepting troops from any country.
Though Ladsous didn’t name the country — for reasons that soon became obvious — and later in the week UN spokesperson Farhan Haq declined to specify any country being considered for South Sudan, later on December 30 at the UN Mission of an African (and troop contributing) country Inner City Press was told Ladsous was trying to push into South Sudan peacekeeping from Morocco. Click here for more on that.
After telling Inner City Press “I don’t answer you Mister,” Ladsous dodged about the impact of shifting peacekeepers out of Darfur, where two had just been killed, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Then he mentioned, for South Sudan, “half a regiment” from the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti. UN Video here, from Minute 3:09.
Now, which country’s half-regiment could that be? Questions have been asked, particularly in light of UN Peacekeeping’s dubious record in Haiti: the introduction of cholera, multiple cases of sexual abuse or exploitation, nearly always followed by mere repatriation and no update on any discipline meted out, for example in the case of repatriated Sri Lanka peacekeepers.
The website of the UNMISS mission in South Sudan lists fully 55 countries as contributing peacekeepers (Morocco notably is NOT among them) and some additional countries contributing UN Police, including Zimbabwe.
Inner City Press: Yes, Farhan. I wanted to ask you two questions about peacekeeping in South Sudan. One is that, it’s reported that India is unhappy with not being consulted in some of the ways their peacekeepers were used and intends to send its own military team to meet with its peacekeepers there. I wanted to know, separately, [Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar] Mukerji has, over the holidays, said that the Force Intervention Brigade may put peacekeepers in danger. What’s your response to that? And also, if you could confirm, I’ve heard that the UN wants to send Moroccan peacekeepers to South Sudan and they’re pushing back. And one of their reasons for pushing back is that Morocco is not a member of the African Union due to the Western Sahara. And I wanted if it’s DPKO’s (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) position that countries don’t have a right to have a sort of principled, political stand on why they wouldn’t take peacekeepers? Or should they take anyone that DPKO sends?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we wouldn’t comment on the specifics of how we’re trying to bring more peacekeepers in. We, as you know, are in touch with a number of Member States trying to build up the forces, as was approved by the Security Council. And when we have details of which countries are coming in, we’ll provide those details at that point. But, I don’t have any specific names to give up until more arrivals come in.
Inner City Press: I ask that only because Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous at the stakeout made a big point of saying, it’s not… when the house is on fire, anyone must be taken. So, I just wanted to know, can you say… is that the UN’s position? That even if there’s a political, principled stated reason not to take them… that wouldn’t… that should be overridden?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: For us, the priority is to get as many peacekeepers in as we can. They’ve been authorized by the Security Council. We’re trying to get the right numbers in order to stop the bloodshed as soon as we possibly can. So, that’s our priority. But, if we have any specific announcements to make about different countries joining in, we’ll make it at that point. But, that’s not ready at this stage.
Inner City Press: And on India?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have any comment on that. Is that it? Okay?
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