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As Peacekeepers Lay Dying in Abyei, Sudan Said No Copters from Wau in South, UK Tells Press, No SOFA

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, August 4 -- Following the death of three Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei while awaiting evacuation by UN medical helicopter, which UN official Alain Le Roy told the Press Sudan threatened to shoot at, more details emerged Thursday night.

  UK Permanent Representative to the UN Mark Lyall Grant told Inner City Press that "the four guys got hit by this landmine, one of them them died instantly. The UN asked for permission for helicopter to come from Wau to pick up the injured. The Sudanese government said they couldn't come from Wau because that was a different country."

   Since the independence of South Sudan on July 9, Khartoum has moved toward currency wars and now, the blocking of medical evacuation which the UN only belatedly and partially acknowledged.

   Lyall Grant to his credit continued, "So they said can we bring a helicopter from Kadugli. It took about three hours or so to get that permission, by the time they picked them up and took them back, it was too late."

   Le Roy told the Press that the Sudanese government "prevented us to take off... by threatening to shoot at the helicopter." Video here, from Minute 46:56.  Audio here, from Minute 46:53.

  Le Roy said that while the UN had yet to sign a Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA with the Khartoum government for the UNISFA mission in Abyei, the old SOFA of the expired UN Mission in Sudan was still in place.

  But Lyall Grant told Inner City Press, "it is an example of, until there is a SOFA, these things are going to happen all the time. Because a SOFA would cover that, would allow them to fly without permission, etcetera."

  On August 3, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky would not answer Inner City Press' question regarding if the UN had signed a SOFA with Khartoum for UNISFA in Abyei. He said he would check, but did not provide an answer.

  Meanwhile a Sudanese diplomat in New York told Inner City Press, credibly or not, that the blame for the lack of a SOFA was on the UN, for not quickly selecting who would negotiate for the UN, a person sent from UNAMID in Darfur or another.

  Lyall Grant told Inner City Press that due to concerns, the head of the UN's Department of Field Support "Susana Malcorra has done to Addis, for tripartite meetings with the Ethiopians and Sudanese."

  He said that the Ethiopians "have a very strong influence with Khartoum... they have an interest in their being a SOFA."

In Wau, Lyall Grant in light jacket, Rice on the mic, SC reaction to copter block not shown

  The US Mission to the UN, meanwhile, had no response six hours later to these questions from Inner City Press, to USUN's two top spokesmen:

This is a request for comment from the US Mission or Ambassador Rice on Alain Le Roy's reply just now to Inner City Press, on UN TV, that in the case of the Abyei peacekeepers who died after mine explosion, the Sudanese government "prevented us to take off... by threatening to shoot at the helicopter." from Minute 46:53.

What is your comment, will you be seeking action in the Security Council, and what is your position on there not being a signed SOFA for UNISFA in Abyei?

Relatedly, what follow up will you seek on the UN Human Rights report on Southern Kordofan, which DPKO has still not released but the leaked copy of which describes war crimes as well as inaction, even before July 9, by the Egyptian battalion of UN peacekeepers in Kadugli?

  Neither lead spokesman Mark Kornblau nor his deputy, admittedly out of the office and about to leave the Mission for non-spokesman work with the State Department, responded to these questions. Watch this site.

Footnote: beyond Sudan, Inner City Press also asked the US Mission, without response

"on Syria, as not asked or answered on Ambassador Rice's conference call yesterday, does the US think Ban Ki-moon should appoint an envoy to Syria, as he has with Yemen?"

After the Security Council adopted its Presidential Statement on Syria on August 3, Lyall Grant and three European Deputy Permanent Representatives all came to the stakeout to take press questions.

  No one came from the US; later Ambassador Rice, who did not attend the Council meeting, held a select conference call at which the above question wasn't asked. State Department spokesman Mike Hammer came to New York and briefed some reporters this week, but only off the record.

  Meanwhile USUN spokesman Mark Kornblau made an appearance on the topic, as one attendee laughingly described it, of media outreach in the service of diplomacy. What?

* * *

Sudan Threatened to Shoot UN Medical Helicopter in Abyei, UN Belatedly Admits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 4 -- Sudan threatened to shoot at a UN helicopter seeking to take three injured Ethiopian peacekeepers for medical treatment from Abyei, the UN belatedly to the Press on Thursday in response to a follow-up question. The three peacekeepers died.

  On August 3, Inner City Press had asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky if the UN for its UNISFA mission in Abyei had signed a Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA with the Khartoum government.

  Nesirky replied, "I would need to check on the precise technicalities there. But I can tell you that the deployment has been continuing." Later on August 3 when Ban spoke to the media, Ban did not mention anything about Abyei or Sudan, and Nesirky did not allow Inner City Press any questions.

  On August 4 Alain Le Roy, the outgoing chief of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was asked about the four deaths in Abyei.

 Le Roy acknowledged that while one peacekeeper died the instant the land mine exploded, three were still alive. But, he said while referring to Status of Forces Agreement, permission was not received to Medivac the three injured peacekeepers out.

Inner City Press asked a follow up, which Nesirky has still failed to answer: does the UN have a Status of Forces Agreement with Sudan for the Abyei mission?

No, Le Roy said, the SOFA for UNISFA "has not been signed yet," adding that the SOFA of the now-expired UN Mission in Sudan is then still in place.

Inner City Press asked, then why didn't the UN fly the peacekeepers out?

"The government prevented us to take off... by threatening to shoot at the helicopter," Le Roy told Inner City Press. Video here, from Minute 46:56.  Audio here, from Minute 46:53.

Moments later, Inner City Press asked Nesirky why Ban hadn't mentioned this when he spoke to the media the previous day, since the threat and the death of the peacekeepers, even if somehow not causally connected, happened at the same time?

Nesirky called this "hypothetical," and did not address why Ban had said nothing publicly. Video here, from Minute 56:32.

 Some wonder, is this the so-called "quiet diplomacy?" Ban met with Sudan's Ambassador to the UN, but said nothing publicly. Nor has Nesirky answered repeated questions from Inner City Press about how many UN peacekeepers remain in Southern Kordofan, and what if anything they are doing to protect civilians. Watch this site.

Ban, Nesirky, Nambiar & Orr, action on UN inaction not shown

Here is from the UN's August 3, 2011 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: the UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei] – the mission in Abyei — has it reached any kind of Status of Forces Agreement with the Sudanese Government?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I would need to check on the precise technicalities there. But I can tell you that the deployment has been continuing. Already there are more than 1,000 troops in the area. As you know, there was an extremely serious incident yesterday, and I would also anticipate that we’d have more to say on that in the coming days.

Inner City Press: Is it known now or can you, after various questions, say how many peacekeepers are still in Southern Kordofan?

Spokesperson: Again, I would need to check on that. I know you’ve asked repeatedly, and as have I, but I don’t have the answer for you at this point.

  That has become Nesirky's, and Ban Ki-moon's refrain.

Click for July 7, 11 re Sudan, Libya, Syria, flotilla

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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