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As Sierra Leone Envoy Says Ban Caving To Koroma, Pascoe Says Speaks For Itself

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 -- While Michael von der Schulenburg was still the UN envoy in Sierra Leone, Inner City Press reported that he hit a staff member, and that in a previous stint for the UN in Iran had dealt in antiquities and rugs, dubbing him "the carpet bagger."

  But when Schulenburg was unceremoniously removed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as his envoy, several Ban administration officials approached Inner City Press to say Ban had "hit a new low," as one of them put it.

  According to these UN officials, who asked for anonymity due to fear of Ban administration retaliation, Schulenburg was removed not because of his previous "misdeeds" as one put it, but entirely because the government of Sierra Leone didn't like how he was dealing with the opposition in the run-up to elections.

  Dealing with oppositions is, of course, part of the job a UN envoy is supposed to do, even if it has become less and less prevalent of late, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and South Sudan.

  Even amid this trend of "sucking up" to host countries as a "way to stay relevant" or at least stay in the country, as one put it, it was not thought that Ban would simply give in and pull out one of his envoys in this way.

On February 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: In the Sierra Leonean press, they say that President [Ernest Bai] Koroma informed [he] was no longer willing to talk to Mr. Schulenburg and that’s why he was removed. And I think since some seem to have a concern that this involves not supporting an SRSG who was trying to speak both with the Government, but also to the opposition and in the face of Government threats to no longer deal with him, to just remove him, this is why I am asking again, what was the reason that he was removed? Is this a mischaracterization of the Secretary-General’s support, or in this case non-support, of an SRSG on the ground facing threats from the Government?

Spokesperson Nesirky: We don’t have anything beyond the statement that we have already issued on this, in which it is very clear that the Secretary-General supported and was supportive of the efforts of Mr. von der Schulenburg on the ground in Sierra Leone.

Inner City Press: Then why did he remove him so abruptly, and what do you say to this? Is it true that President Koroma said, “I won’t deal with Schulenburg any more”?

Spokesperson: As I say, we issued a statement and I don’t have anything beyond that, Matthew.

  Then a letter from Schulenburg to the outgoing head of Ban's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe emerged, in which Schulenburg wrote

"There can be little doubt, that the decision by the President to force my early departure will be seen - rightly or wrongly - by virtually every Sierra Leonean as an effort to remove a potential obstacle to his re-election and as opening the door to manipulating the election outcome in his favor. I also feel that we should engage the President directly over his sudden flair of hostility towards me before giving in to his request for my departure... Many Sierra Leoneans (as indeed many among the international community) may see the U.N. as readily caving in to unreasonable and unjustified pressures without making even the slightest attempt to protect the position as the Secretary-General's representative in this country."

  While some allege that Schulenburg himself leaked the letter, other tried to say it is not authentic. On February 14, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Nesirky

Inner City Press: the letter that’s now been leaked —Mr. Schulenburg’s letter to Lynn Pascoe asking the UN not to give in to what he called pressure by the Government of Sierra Leone to have him removed as SRSG — what’s the response to his letter? Because it makes it look to some and he said in his own letter that it will look like the UN is simply giving in to host country’s displeasure with either criticism or even-handed treatment by an SRSG. Is it in fact a letter that Schulenburg sent to Pascoe and what is the Secretary-General’s response to the idea of some that he sold out an SRSG?

Ban smiles at SRSG before the Fall, letter not shown, (c) UN Photo

Spokesperson: First of all, we put out a statement, as you will have seen, I don’t have anything to add to that, except to say that we don’t comment on leaked internal communications.

  So Inner City Press sought out Pascoe himself, in the UN's North Lawn building. Pascoe sighed and said it "speaks for itself," indicating at least that the letter is authentic. Yes, this speaks for itself. This is Ban's UN. Watch this site.

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