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In Cote d'Ivoire, UN Defers to Gbabgo's Forces, Certified Illegitimate

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 12, updated -- In Cote d'Ivoire, the UN is relying of the forces of Laurent Gbagbo to protect civilians, even as it said that Gbagbo's forces have ambushed and shot at UN peacekeepers.

  Inner City Press on Wednesday asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky if the UN, which has certified Alassane Ouattara as the President, views Gbagbo's forces as “the government” or as rebels, and to compare this situation to other countries like Sudan in which UN peacekeepers work with and transport government officials, even if like Ahmed Harun they have been indicted for war crimes.

  Nesirky refused to make any comparison, saying instead that the UN need to have a “channel of communication” with Gbagbo's forces. But the UN's military spokesman in Cote d'Ivoire, Lt. Col. Rais Shakib. has said that Gbagbo's “security forces always have the first line of responsibility against wrongdoers.”

  Inner City Press asked Nesirky, doesn't this imply that the UN views Gbagbo as the government? Because rebels and non-state groups are not assigned such “first line responsibility against wrongdoers” by the UN.

  Nesirky never answered this question, but it will continue to be raised. What are the other countries on earth where the UN had deemed a force in power to be illegitimate, and how then does the UN work with such an illegal government?

UN's Ban: why rely on Gbagbo if UN certified as illegitimate?

 The UN usually recognizes whatever regime is in power, whether or not elections have been held. What message is the UN sending?

Footnote: Inner City Press also asked Nesirky about the UN “hot line” which did not answer Abidjan residents' emergency calls. Nesirky claimed the hot -- or it is cold? -- line is working well, and said he would look into what its hours of operations are. Watch this site.

Update of 3:38 pm -- UN acting Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq has just told the Press that the hot line "is manned 24 hours a day."  Apparently, the UN is taking issue with the New York Times, which quoted Abidjan residents "repeatedly calling a United Nations emergency hot line for help, and getting no answer." So will the UN be asking for a correction or retraction?

From the UN's transcript of January 12:

Inner City Press: On Côte d’Ivoire, I wanted to ask about this report that during the attack that the UN turned back from, that even when residents called this UN hotline that they got no answer at all, and that the Lieutenant Colonel Rais Shakib said that it’s really up to Gbagbo’s forces to be going after the wrongdoers. It seemed from what you had read out, you are alleging that the Gbagbo forces are some of the wrongdoers themselves…

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: I’m not alleging, Matthew, I’m telling you.

Inner City Press: Okay, then why is the Force Commander there saying that it’s up to the Gbagbo force to protect civilians, when you’re saying that the Gbagbo forces are shooting at the UN? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Spokesperson: Because those security forces are the forces on the ground, Ivorian forces that are on the ground. They are the Government forces on the ground in Abidjan and elsewhere. That’s the first thing. On the hotline, I know that that hotline, which worked extremely well during the election period, is still working extremely well. And I know that people are there taking calls — this is primarily to do with human rights, and being able to report human rights abuses or reports of human rights abuses.

Inner City Press: Is that number open at night? I’m sure you’ve seen The [ New York] Times story that says that scores of residents called and got no answer.

Spokesperson: To my knowledge, it’s open long hours. I need to check exactly what the hours are. [He later said the human rights office in UNOCI confirmed the hotline is manned 24 hours a day.]

Inner City Press: I guess it’s just to clarify — I’m just trying to understand — because given the quote by this Rais Shakib, that it’s up to the Gbagbo forces essentially – I understand that you’d want them to protect civilians – but if you’re not alleging, I guess saying that they’re among the wrongdoers, in terms of carrying out this protection of civilians mandate, is it reasonable to say, as the Force Commander there does, that the UN is relying on the Gbagbo forces to provide this protection?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The primary responsibility for security in the country rests with the security forces of the country. That’s fairly clear. And the Mission has a mandate indeed to seek to protect civilians wherever it can. And that’s what it tries to do.

Inner City Press: Just one more, because I want to try to understand this. This seems to be now a country where the security forces are controlled by a Government that the UN has deemed to be illegitimate. It seems that you – Mr. [Alassane] Ouatarra is the President; therefore. Gbagbo is not the President; therefore, the security forces are not legitimate. Is there – I’m interested to know if there’s other countries where the UN deems those in power not to be legitimate? Given that, doesn’t it change the UN’s usual deference to security forces?

Spokesperson: Again, there’s no point in trying to draw parallels between countries. Let’s stick with Côte d’Ivoire. And there, as I say, those forces – the gendarmerie, the Republican Guard and the Armed Forces – are the Government forces on the ground. They are the ones — for the military, for the gendarmerie and for the Republican Guard — we obviously need to be able to work with them operationally, because they do have the primary responsibility for security in their own country.

Inner City Press: But it seems almost like a rebel force that controls territory? Or are they viewed as the Government?

Spokesperson: Well, the point here is to be able to have a channel of communication to those forces, to be able to ensure that incidents like the one I referred to don’t occur.

* * *

In Cote D'Ivoire, as UN Retreats from Gbagbo Turf, Talks Tough in NY

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 11 -- While at the UN in New York the new Ambassador of Alassane Ouattara says the UN is ready to “be firm” to remove Laurent Gbagbo from power, in Abidjan the UN peacekeepers drove away from a crowd of Gbagbo supporters, leaving behind four civilian UN employees who were then disappeared.

Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky on January 11 about an incident the previous day, in which the UN “withdrew” from a neighborhood with Gbagbo supporters in it. What are the UN's rules of engagement? How can the it protect civilians if it retreats in this way?

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: In Côte d’Ivoire, there’s this report of the peacekeepers retreating, as some headlines put it, or turning around, leaving a neighborhood described as being under Gbagbo’s loyalist security concerns. Can you say, is that true, and what are the terms of engagement, and are they going to return to this area? Or is that an area they’re no longer policing or able to protect people in?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, generally, obviously the Mission has a mandate to protect civilians, and has been regularly patrolling. It also has to exercise discretion where necessary. I can tell you that, referring to an incident or an instance on 10 January — in other words, yesterday — this was a logistics convoy from the Mission that comprised four civilian trucks, and it was stopped at the checkpoint near the American embassy on its way to re-supply the Golf Hotel in Abidjan. And then a few minutes later, three vehicles with some 20 defense and security force, FDS [Defence and Security Forces] elements, arrived at the location. And then a crowd of several hundred, which included five additional vehicles with 50 people from the FDS, the police and the gendarmerie, and then four civilians who were part of this convoy were taken into custody. And then, in the meantime, the crowd started looting the items from the vehicles. The peacekeepers, the UNOCI elements, left to bring reinforcements, and when they returned the three civilian trucks and the four drivers were missing.

Choi Young-jin with peacekeepers, retreat & legislative elections not shown

And UNOCI is, as I’ve been informed, is in direct contact with the FDS leadership to ascertain their whereabouts and the mission is investigating the incident and is also putting in place measures to try to reduce the risk of such incidents occurring in the future.

Inner City Press: They said 13 trucks, that seems to add up, it sounds like [inaudible] the incident that’s being --

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I’m telling you – this is from the Mission. Okay?

  No, it's NOT okay. Watch this site.

* * *

Amid Discussion of Cutting Cocoa Customs & Paying Gbagbo Army, UN Is Listening

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 7 -- In and around the UN in New York there is open talk about trying to cut off Laurent Gbagbo's access to cocoa customs in Cote d'Ivoire, or to paying bribes to his military to defect. But is UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon part of these discussions?

Among Security Council members the date of January 16 is named for when payment is due to Gbagbo's military. One Ambassador told some of the press that Gbagbo's military is being told that “the ICC is watching,” and that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the Council that not only Ouattara but also Gbagbo recently called him. France is described as trying to blockade cocoa custom funds to Gbagbo.

Inner City Press on January 7 asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if, during Ban's video conferences with his envoy in Abidjan Choi Young-jin the two speak on these topics. “The Mission monitors such developments with a close eye,” Nesirky replied. He added that “the Mission keep Headquarters informed... They assess every aspect across the spectrum.” Audio here, from Minute 18:40.

To some, this was a surprising answer.

UN's Ban & Choi, talk of cocoa customs & payments not shown

  When Ouattara called for a Special Forces action against Gbagbo and Inner City Press asked Nesirky about it, he replied that the UN favors a diplomatic solution. Watch this site.

Inner City Press asked Nesirky how the UN could conclude that the deadly fighting in Douekou was not related to the Gbagbo - Ouattara standoff. Rather than explain, Nesirky read out a note that a seven person team from Abidjan will go to Douekou with aid and to assess. Then what?

* * *

As UN Misses Gbagbo Forces' Deadly Raid on Opposition Office, Ban's Spokesman Passes Buck to DPKO Missions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 4 -- What is the UN doing in Cote d'Ivoire and whom is it protecting? After forces of Laurent Gbagbo raided the offices of the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, Inner City Press asked the UN to confirm whether one or four people had been killed, and to state where other that the Golf Hotel is it protecting, even just in Abidjan.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, who earlier spoke about the ONUCI Mission's “patrols,” replied that UN peacekeepers had “sought to gain access but it was not yet possible.”

Inner City Press asked whether the UN was purporting to protect offices of opposition political parties, or by implication their officials.

The focus is the Golf Hotel,” Nesirky said. As the UN says when civilians are slaughtered or raped in Eastern Congo, he said UN peacekeepers “can't be everywhere all the time.” Here we're talking about a foreseeable attack on an opposition politicial party's office right in Abidjan. The UN couldn't be there?

Outside the UN Security Council, Inner City Press learned that the Council will in all probability have consultations on Cote d'Ivoire on January 5. “We're still consulting” a source told Inner City Press, “but it looks like it will be tomorrow.

At the noon briefing, Nesirky added that he would “defer to [his] colleagues in the Mission” to provide further answers. Video here, from Minute 22:22.

UN's Le Roy meets Ouattara, answers on protection of offices not shown

  Nesirky, who is the spokesman not only for Ban Ki-moon but for the UN Secretariat, which includes UN peacekeeping missions, increasingly engages in this passing of the buck. In just the past ten days, he has told Inner City Press to go ask the UN Mission in Kosovo about a UN judge who let an organ theft defendant go free.

  He has allowed the UN - African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur to go 11 days without answering a question about rape by Sudan government officials right next to UN peacekeepers.

  Most recently Nesirky has told to go ask MINUSTAH in Haiti how much the UN pays an official. We'll have more on that one, and the others. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

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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