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As Sudan Bombs Jebel Marra & Blockades Darfur IDPs, UN Won't Respond

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 19 -- Amid Sudan bombings and blockades of humanitarian aid in Darfur, the UN has done little on the ground while dodging questions in New York.

On February 18, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky admitted to Inner City Press that peacekeepers in Darfur had not gone to the Jebel Marra villages they had heard being bombed, and had done nothing as an Internally Displaced Persons camp at Zamzam was blockaded by the government.

Back on February 15, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: UNAMID, the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur is quote, widely perceived sympathetic to the Government and on the whole is not trusted by Darfuris. The perception was undoubtedly made worse when the Government recently stated that UNAMID’s core job was to help the Government implement its strategy for Darfur. Can you respond? Isn’t, is it correct that UNAMID’s core strategy is to work with the Government to implement its strategy in Darfur which has been criticized as genocidal? And what is the response to this, to this, you know, to this study and to many of the questions still pending with your Office about Darfur, camp raids, et cetera?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Just two points: One is that I think I’d like to take a closer look at the report that you mention. And secondly, that UNAMID works under a very clear Security Council mandate, and I would refer you to that. It explains there precisely what its role is. But as I say, I’ll need to take a closer look at the report that you mention.

   But Nesirky never did respond to the report. Rather, when Inner City Press asked about it again on February 16, Nesirky claimed he had answered the questions the previous day, that is in the transcript above and referred to a press conference in Khartoum by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, that he was belatedly adopting a “more robust” approach in Darfur as demanded (with little follow through) by the UN Security Council. Then Nesirky turned away from the questions.

UN's Ban & Gambari, response to Darfur bombs & blockades not shown

  Here is the UN's February 16 transcript:

Inner City Press: I want to ask you some questions about Sudan. One is that the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] in this new fighting with General [George] Athor, he is saying that Khartoum is providing him weapons and supporting him. I wonder what UNMIS has to say about that. And also what UNAMID has to say about reports of renewed fighting in Wadi Mora, and also this expulsion of Médecins du Monde from Darfur and the allegations by the governor there that Médecins du Monde with UNAMID was delivering expired medications. Does UNAMID, you know, deny that, and what have they said about this?

Spokesperson Nesirky: On the very last part, I am not aware of that particular aspect, but I know that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari was briefing correspondents today in Khartoum, and did address the question of the expulsion of Médecins du Monde. He said that this was most regrettable, and there is a mechanism when any NGO is facing such a dilemma that there should be some kind of negotiations between the central Government and local authorities — and that would include help from UNAMID on the ground. And this is something that I know that our humanitarian colleagues are looking at right now. Médecins du Monde has been playing a critical role in providing medical support. And they are obviously not the first NGO to find themselves in this position, and this is not something that we feel comfortable with because obviously they play an important role. Mr. Gambari did speak a little bit more about in Khartoum today.

Inner City Press: And what’s your response to that report that came out yesterday among other things, saying that UNAMID is perceived as being too close to the Government?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I answered that yesterday, you know. UNAMID has a very clear Security Council mandate. I answered that question yesterday.

Inner City Press: [inaudible]

Spokesperson: I am just answering on Darfur here. What I can tell you is that on some fighting that has been taking place in Shangil Tobaya, and that we are certainly concerned about that fighting, and a humanitarian assessment mission is planning to visit the area tomorrow with UNAMID military escorts. And it is our understanding that the fighting that has been talking place there since the 15th — so that is yesterday — has displaced a large number of people from the local population. And we would certainly call on all the parties to cease fire immediately and resume negotiations, not least because these clashes between Government and rebel forces and air strikes by the Government have, it would seem, led to the loss of life; losses of life, and as I say, displacement of civilians. Yes, Sylviane.

Question: Sorry to interrupt, but I want to know, there is, next week, there is a Security Council on the Middle East. It seems that it is very important since the Security Council didn’t meet for the [inaudible] to discuss the Middle East. Do you know who will be briefing the Council on that matter?

Spokesperson: I don’t at the moment, but I am happy to find out.

  With the focus shifted, at the UN's noon briefing on February 17 there were no Sudan questions, much less answers. Finally on February 18 Inner City Press asked about (non) implementation of Gambari's new strategy:

Inner City Press: There are reports of Government airplanes with Antonov bombing in Wadi Mura and some other villages in Darfur. And I wanted to know whether UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is aware of that, if they are sending anyone out, if they have any access to the area? There are also these reports of the ZamZam IDP [internally displaced persons] camp, which I think UNAMID has some protection role, being blockaded by the Government now for two days running. Is there some… can you confirm that?

Spokesperson: On the first, the bombing in the region of Shangil Tobaya and Wadimura as you mentioned, the mission is reporting that sounds of heavy explosions were heard at frequent intervals, throughout the day. And a patrol tasked to carry out investigation and verification of fighting in the area was advised by the Sudanese military at Shangil Tobaya that they should not visit Wadimura because these air operations were still going on. And the team was told that they might get clearance to allow a UNAMID patrol to visit Wadimura on 19 February — that’s tomorrow. They were trying to get that clearance from higher authorities at El Fasher if the situation comes under control. So that is what I have on that. We are fully aware, obviously, of what is going on and the need to be able to gain access to investigate and to verify what the cost is on the ground. So, that’s on the first thing.

On the second one that you talked about, about the ZamZam camp; well, our understanding is that the fighting has displaced — and I mentioned this earlier in the week, I think — a large number of the local population. And this has included a large influx of IDPs into ZamZam IDP camp, as many as 1,400 families, but it is the case, regrettably, that the Government of Sudan has suspended humanitarian access, that has been since 16 February — so that is two days ago. And we mentioned that a humanitarian assessment mission was planned for that day, and we understand from UNAMID that the patrol has so far not been able to get through beyond Dar el Salaam, which is about 45 kilometres east of Shangil Tobaya, and this is because, as I mentioned, there is still activity by the Sudanese Air Force in the area.

Inner City Press: Can I just ask one, because I did go and read what Ibrahim Gambari said in his press conference in Khartoum and he seemed to be announcing a new approach, in some way a response to criticism that was leveled by some Security Council members on being more active. But it seems like in both of these cases, you are saying like the Government said: “don’t go”, and so UNAMID said: “we can’t go”. Is it… How is this consistent with the new…?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, that’s not quite what I am saying. I hear what you are saying, and Mr. Gambari has been quite clear about the need for a more robust response, not just the need, but the intention to carry through and follow through on that. I think the point here is that there is bombing going on, not to put too fine a point on it. And that would obviously make it difficult to operate on the ground there. But Mr. Gambari has indeed been quite clear on what needs to happen. And as and when I have more details on whether this, one, the verification patrol has been able to get through, and two, the humanitarian assessment mission has been able to get through, then I would happily share that with you.

  If the past is any guide, with many Darfur related questions pending at the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General without any response, we won't be holding our breath. But we will continue asking. Watch this site.

* * *

UN Says Flying ICC Indictee Haroun Was In Its Budget, Won't Disclose Cost

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 -- After the UN begrudgingly confirmed to Inner City Press that it had provided transportation to Ahmed Haroun, indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court, the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Martin Nesirky insisted that it was “on a space available basis... at no additional operational costs to the mission.”

Immediately after that answer, two weeks ago, Inner City Press began asking Nesirky:

On your answer that Ahmed Haroun, indicted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur, flew on a pre-existing UN flight, in light of footage from interview in South Kordofan which Haroun arranged with UN plane on camera behind him, please state who else was on the flight with him, how frequent UN flights between Abyei and South Kordofan are and what size aircrafts are used.”

While there has still not been answer answer to this question, on February 11 in front of the UN Security Council Inner City Press asked the head of the UN Mission in Sudan Haile Menkerios if Haroun had been flown on a regular UN flight.

Menkerios said no, “there is no direct flight to Abyei. We flew him there in order to take him... We flew him by helicopter to Abyei because there is no flight.”

This contradicted Ban's spokesman's response that the UN's flight of ICC indictee Haroun was “on a space available basis... at no additional operational costs to the mission.”

  And so on February 14 Inner City Press asked Nesirky to explain the discrepancy, and reiterated the request to know who else was on the flight, and how much it cost.

Nesirky began by asking Inner City Press to “read from [its] blog” and then denied there was any contradiction:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about this, the flying by UNMIS of Ahmed Haroun, who is indicted by the ICC. And earlier response from your office had said that…

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Matthew, why don’t you read out what your blog said today?

Inner City Press: Yeah, Okay.

Spokesperson: Why don’t you read out…?

Inner City Press: No, what I would like to know, I’d like to know what your response is.

Spokesperson: Why don’t you read out what the top of your blog said today? Do you want to read out the top, what your blog actually says?

Inner City Press: I’d like… okay, fine, I mean… I guess that… I was trying to ask you a question. I thought that was the purpose of these briefings.

Spokesperson: No, I mean, just ask the question, but…

Inner City Press: Yeah, my question is, how is it consistent with the response that I got that said that there were these pre-existing seats and were done at no additional cost to the Mission with Mr. [Haile] Menkerios’ statement that there was a special helicopter used because there are no regular flights to Abyei. How are the two consistent? And what was the cost to Abyei? And…

Spokesperson: Well, I think there is a very clear answer to this. And that is that, at the request of the Government and when space is available, UNMIS provides seats on its flights to Government officials on official business related to the peace process, and without any financial implications to the Government and at no additional operational costs to the Mission. This means that, as part of the Mission's mandate, the cost of transporting Government officials, whether it is on a regular or a special flight, is already allocated in the Mission's budget and so there is no question of it incurring any additional operational costs.

UN's Ban & spox Nesirky, cost of flying ICC indictee not shown

And in this case — and as mentioned indeed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Menkerios — a regular flight was not available and therefore UNMIS transported Governor Haroun as part of its mandate to provide good offices to the parties, under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in their efforts to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations.

And as I think you will recall, at the time there were clashes in Abyei going on at the time, and those clashes threatened to escalate. And it was Governor Haroun who was instrumental in bringing the Misseriya leaders to that meeting in Abyei, and this helped to prevent further clashes.

Inner City Press: But you understand why the answer that said on a space-available basis and at no additional operational cost to the Mission created the impression that this was a pre-existing flight, as from, for example, Kinshasa to Goma, on which he put somebody on an existing flight? I mean, that’s why I have been asking who else was on the flight and how much did the flight cost. It seems a fair question when transporting an indicted ICC indicted of war crimes.

Spokesperson: I think, as we’ve said very clearly, no additional operational costs are involved. Within the budget there are costs that cover transport, and there is no additional cost involved in the flight that was provided.

Inner City Press: The idea of like a special UN flight to fly Mr. Haroun to Abyei being at no additional costs to the Mission. I just, I guess I wanted…

Spokesperson: Because there are blocks of time available for flights, and that is already budgeted into the Mission’s budget, and indeed that is a standard procedure in any mission which has an aircraft.

Inner City Press: Would the UN fly Omar al-Bashir to Darfur? I mean, I guess I just want to know where it stops. I guess I just want to reiterate my question, despite the simplest way to do it, how much the flight actually cost - because there is, I am sure, a cost to it – and who else was on the flight? I mean, it seemed like a pretty fair… because there is controversy around this flight and I just find that the answer that was given, at least I know, maybe I am… maybe I am a bad reader, but it’s… when it says when seats are available and at no additional cost it implies that the flight was a pre-existing flight on which, at no cost to the Mission, they put Mr. Haroun on the flight. But it’s not the case.

Spokesperson: Well, it is as I said to you, when space is available and at the request of the Government, the Mission provides seats on its flights. And it doesn’t, there are no financial implications for the Government, and no additional operational costs to the mission.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] when you said like when seats are available, usually this implies…

Spokesperson: Let’s move on, we’re moving round in circles, Matthew. Let’s move on to the next question. I am sure you have another question.

Yes there are many more questions. 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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