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At AU, Ban Spins "Negligence" in S. Sudan As UN Stonewalls, Drops Migiro

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 -- Amid charges of UN negligence in not ensuring that its Mission in South Sudan had military helicopters from mid November until the bloodshed in Pibor in Jonglei State, Ban Ki-moon on Sunday while refusing to say what he knew and when again put his spin on the issue.

  He told the AU Summit in Addis Ababa

"South Sudan is twice the size of Germany, with less than 100 kilometers of paved roads. Our peacekeepers are doing all they can — with what they have. Despite severe logistical constraints, particularly air transport, the mission succeeded in saving many lives during the recent crisis in Jonglei. Yet clearly: without air assets such as helicopters, we cannot do all that we must do to protect people. Today, I appeal once again to you and to all Member States."

  Meanwhile Ban's spokesman in New York Martin Nesirky after twice refusing to say when Ban knew that UNMISS had no military helicopters and when what Ban's called his "begging" belatedly began on Friday referred Inner City Press on this to UN Peacekeeping, "DPKO and DFS" which he said would provide "the details."

  And so Inner City Press wrote to chiefs Herve Ladsous and Susana Malcorra and agency spokespeople:

This concerns South Sudan. In a January 18 speech the Secretary General said he "saw the violence in South Sudan coming weeks before but had no military helicopters and, 'at the critical moment, I was reduced to begging for replacements.'"

But I'm told that the UN was informed in mid November that the Russian helicopters would not fly.

The Secretary General said more on this topic on January 25, and on January 26 and today I asked his spokesman to name the date on which the UN / Ban Ki-moon was notified (and separately, knew) that there would not be military helicopters flying in South Sudan.

On January 26 the spokesman said "in December" and when I asked when in December he said, "I don’t have the exact date now."

Today when I asked again, rather than provide the date he told me to ask DPKO / DFS.

So I am asking:

1) when was the UN told that the Russian helicopters would not fly in South Sudan?

2) if different, when was Ban Ki-moon told that the Russian helicopters would not fly in South Sudan?

3) when did Ban Ki-moon start "begging," in his words, for helicopters, before the events in Pibor?

4) what does the UN say was the impact on its ability to protect civilians in Pibor of not having military helicopters?

Separately, in her January 23 video briefing, SRSG Hilde Johnson said after being told that Russian helicopters wouldn't fly, she was "subsequently" told that they would. I asked what date, she said she didn't have it with her but it would be provided. It hasn't been; I've asked about it at the UN noon briefing: can that date now be provided?

  But rather than answer these questions, including for information that was already promised to the UN, DPKO's Kieran Dwyer provided more spin, entirely dodging the questions on which Ban's spokesman had publicly referring Inner City Press. Dwyer wrote:

Susana Malcorra has forwarded your email to me (copy below). I have spoken with her; she was on her way to the airport for official travel when she received it. I believe that her briefing to you on the topic of the helicopters earlier in January covered most of these issues, and I will reiterate the key points in response to your email today on behalf of her and the other addressees.

It was the end of November 2011 when the Russian military helicopters in South Sudan stopped flying. However, at no stage did the Russian Government tell the United Nations that there was a permanent or irrevocable decision to keep the helicopters grounded.

Therefore, while military helicopters were grounded in November all our efforts through late last year and early this year were to ensure the conditions for the Russian military helicopters to fly again. This included direct efforts by the Secretary-General himself, which he has referred to.

Even until today, while we are aware of media reports of the decision by the Russian Government to withdraw its military helicopters from South Sudan, we have not been formally advised of this.

On the ground, the Mission was informed that Russian crews were awaiting instructions from their capital. So our efforts continued to focus on ensuring conditions to allow them to fly again. The United Nations cannot replace the Russian helicopters while they are still based in South Sudan and when the UN has not been informed of any irrevocable decision that they will not fly again. In the meantime, the United Nations sought temporary measures by mobilising helicopters from neighbouring missions.

This information was provided to you in an extensive briefing by Susana Malcorra earlier in January.

  Not only is there still no date provided -- it's that after Malcorra in a "briefing" that she asked be mostly off the record, Ban gave a speech entirely passing the buck, and the UN has since refused to provide the basis of what Ban is saying: what did Ban know, and when did he know it?

  Significantly, the UN didn't even mention its failure to get military helicopters to Pibor until it was exposed, by Inner City Press, in a January 11 story. Then, rather than make disclosure and say how this would be avoided in the future, the spinning and stonewalling began, and has spread.

(c) UN Photo
Ban & Jean Ping, now in AU election, Pibor negligence not shown

  So less than an hour after DPKO's Dwyer's response, Inner City Press asked him, Ladsous, Malcorra and Johnson again:

This is not responsive to the questions asked, nor does it provide the information that Hilde Johnson said at the end of her January 23 video briefing would be provided.

You refer to what USG Malcorra said on January 16, but these questions as I explained spring from Ban Ki-moon's January 18 R2P speech and January 25 statements:

-- WHEN did Ban Ki-moon start "begging," in his words, for helicopters, before the events in Pibor?

-- when was Ban Ki-moon told that the Russian helicopters would not fly in South Sudan?

These are the questions I have been asking in the noon briefing, and on which I was referred to DPKO / DFS. So I am waiting for the answer(s), and the information SRSG Johnson said she would provide.

Even the statement you have sent does not mention what the Russians have told me was the UN inserting into the draft Letter of Assist having machine gun mounts on the helicopters, and the role that played in the delay and ultimate rejection of the draft Letter of Assist.

Along with answering the questions that I actually asked, please address this last as well. And please confirm or deny that another troop contributing country has, they say, had an offer of military / "attack" helicopters on the table before the UN, for two months they say, and state the issues considered in delaying and, at least for now, not accepting these helicopters.

  In the more than 30 hours and counting since these reiterated questions were sent to DPKO, Ladsous, Malcorra and Johnson, not one of the questions has been answered.

  Meanwhile Ban to the AU in Addis said, "our peacekeepers are doing all they can... Today, I appeal once again to you and to all Member States."

  Ban also said "I have made Africa a priority from day one" - less than a week after he belated confirmed that he is dropping Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania as his Deputy Secretary General, as Inner City Press first reported, likely for the aforementioned Susana Malcorra of Argentine.

  Nor despite repeated public requests from the African Group has Ban appoined, as required, a full time Special Adviser on Africa.

  But the claims in Addis, amid continued refusal to take and answer the simple questions about presumptive negligence in South Sudan, is becoming outrageous, and will continue to be pursued. Watch this site.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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