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UN Didn't Announce Darfur Kidnappings, Waited to See if Questioned

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 14 -- When UN peacekeepers or humanitarian contractors are injured or especially kidnapped, the UN usually speaks up quickly to deplore and demand action by the host government.

  But this week when three Bulgarians working in Darfur for the UN and its World Food Program were taken hostage, the UN didn't even announce it in its daily media briefing in New York.

This came days after a coalition of human rights groups accused the UN in Darfur, particularly the UNAMID mission under Ibrahim Gambari, of imposing a “humanitarian information blackout” which benefits the Omar al Bashir government of Sudan. The group surmise that the blackout is getting worse and worse as the UN tries to not upset Bashir, despite his indictment for genocide, during the Southern Sudan secession referendum.

The groups appear to be right, not only as to the UN stopping or delaying response to and reporting of attacks on civilians in Darfur, but even attacks on and kidnappings of UN affiliated personnel. How else to explain the UN's failure to mention the kidnapping of the three Bulgarians, and to follow through and name the guilty parties -- allegedly Bashir connected and even funded tribes -- in previous Darfur kidnappings?

Here is the transcript of the UN's January 13 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: On the Sudan, can you — this kidnapping of humanitarian workers, Bulgarian pilots of the UN in Darfur. What’s the — what’s being done about it, and I guess I was expecting you to say it at the beginning. It’s widely now known.

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: What did you expect me to say?

Inner City Press: I guess that three UN-contracted humanitarian workers have been kidnapped in Darfur, and they should be returned, and the Government should do all it can — if the tribes that did it are associated with them.

Spokesperson: So what’s the question?

Inner City Press: I guess my question is, I’m just saying as an aside, I wonder — what’s the standard? If UN personnel are taken hostage, isn’t it usually said from here?

Spokesperson: Well, you’ve asked me, and I can tell you.

Mr. Nesirky & Ban Ki-moon, Darfur kidnappings not shown (until asked about)

Inner City Press: Okay, so what’s the status?

Spokesperson: That we can confirm. But you’ve pretty much — it’s almost as though you wrote it, Matthew. We can confirm that three helicopter crew members working for the United Nations humanitarian air service, managed by the World Food Programme, have been abducted by armed men in Sudan. The incident happened at 10:35 local time on Thursday — that’s today — at a landing strip at Um Shalaya, 60 kilometres south-east of El Geneina in West Darfur.

Inner City Press: Since this has been — it’s happened many times — it’s always said that nothing will be said while they’re being held, but once they’re released something will be said. In the case, for example, of the peacekeeper that was taken in El-Fasher and was returned, did the UN conclude that these were Government-affiliated kidnappers? Rebel-affiliated? What conclusion have they reached? It seems to happen all the time.

Spokesperson: The point is that Istvan Papp, the Hungarian civilian working in the Mission, was released. And as you know, he was held for 90-something days. That’s the most important point here, is that he was released. I don’t have anything further on who abducted him and why, but simply — the local authorities, the [UN] Mission and the Department for Safety and Security worked extremely hard to secure his release.

Inner City Press: There’s just always this — the reason I asked you about announcing, is that — that definitely is an indicator of kind of lack of stability and of a problem. It seems like — maybe you think it’s a strange question. Because normally the UN speaks about if a staff member is injured or taken hostage — it just strikes me — to some, it seems strange not to say it, if it happens in Darfur. Is it a big deal, or…

Spokesperson: But I’ve said it, Matthew. I’m not quite sure what the point is there.

   The point is, Nesirky only said anything about the three kidnapping because he was asked a question. He had the information, but waited to see if anyone would ask about it. The UN does this when it does not want to offend a government. But should that be its approach now to Sudan? Watch this site.

* * *

As UN Admits Transporting ICC Indictee Harun to Abyei, NGOs & US Have Yet to Speak

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 11 -- The UN Mission in Sudan transported and assisted International Criminal Court indictee Ahmed Harun, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky confirmed to Inner City Press on Tuesday, because the UN finds Harun helpful in dealing with violence in Abyei.
   Nesirky implied that the UN will continue to transport Harun, saying that the UN "will continue to provide necessary support to key players."
Video here, from Minute 13:48.

  Inner City Press asked why the UN transported Harun, not only in light of his ICC indictment for war crimes in Darfur, but also of the capacities of the Sudanese Air Force, which has recently conducted bombing raids in and near Southern Sudan.

  If the Sudanese Air Force can bomb, Inner City Press asked, why can't it fly Harun to Abyei? Nesirky did not answer this question. Nor would he tell Inner City Press if UNMIS, led by Haile Menkerios, had checked with UN Headquarters' Office of Legal Affairs or Ban Ki-moon before transporting an indicted war criminal.

  It seems to some that the Sudanese government of Omar al Bashir, who has also been indicted by the ICC for genocide as well as war crimes, has no lack of capacity to transport its official Harun, but instead wanted to get the UN further involved in undercutting the war crimes indictments.

  Already, Haile Menkerios and his counterpart at the Mission in Darfur UNAMID Ibrahim Gambari attended the inauguration of Omar al Bashir. Inner City Press asked Nesirky, without answer, if the UN would provide transport and assistance to other ICC indictees, including Joseph Kony of the the Lord's Resistance Army, widely thought to be in South Darfur.

UN Security Council in Sudan w/ Gambari, 10/10 (c)MRLee

  Earlier on January 11, Inner City Press asked representatives of non-governmental organizations active on Sudan about the UN's transport of ICC indictee Harun. David Abramowitz, the Director of Policy and Government Relations of the group Humanity United, said that he wasn't aware of the reports of Harun being transported, "I have not seen that report."

  Nor has the US administration, including its Mission at the UN, yet spoken on the matter. Some wonder whether they were consulted, even whether, in light of the offer to delink Darfur from the offer to remove some sanctions on Sudan in exchange for the South Sudan referendum, if the US agreed.

  Sam Bell, the Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network / Save Darfur Coalition, said he hadn't seen the report confirmed, but either way it did not send a good message to the people of Darfur, where Harun was indicted for war crimes: "already Darfuri are suspicious of UNAMID and UN personnel."

  In fact, Harun was indicted for working with and organizing the type of nomadic tribes which are accused of the killings in Abyei, and now in South Kordofan state as well.

   Nesirky told Inner City Press that "Governor Harun was critical" to bringing the Miseriya tribes together. Video here, from Minute 15:58.

  So in this view, it is not only a matter of the fox guarding the hen house: the UN has taken to transporting the fox to the hen house. Where will there be accountability? Watch this site.

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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