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In Darfur, UN Council Plays Mother Theresa, Dodges on Inaction of UNAMID

By Matthew Russell Lee

KHARTOUM, October 8-9, 2010 -- Why did the UN Security Council trip to Darfur feel so docile, so distracted?

   Or perhaps perfunctory: the 15 Ambassadors were driven around in a convoy of some 40 four wheel drive vehicles, from being protested at the Wali of North Darfur's compound to the Abu Shouk Internally Displaced Person's camp to a hospital to the airport, where UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant took and largely dodged seven questions and then got on the plane.

  Such a program implied that the UN Security Council is Mother Theresa, that its main work is humanitarian. That the Saudi Hospital in Al Fasher is unsanitary, as one Permanent Five Council member emphasized to the Press -- what exactly is the Security Council going to do about it?

  Meanwhile things much more directly in the Council's jurisdiction like the host country Sudan's denial of freedom of movement to the peacekeeping mission established by the Council, UNAMID, and UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari prepares to hand over five supporters of rebel Abdel Wahid Nur to this same government, with a president indicted for war crimes and genocide, seems to have hardly been discussed or even accessed.

  We say seem because the Press was excluded from nearly every stop along the Council member's humanitarian tour. A breakfast with international non governmental organizations was "for Security Council members only."

   At the Wali's house, after formulaic speeches and much conferring with another delegation, Lyall Grant asked the Press to leave. The same occurred at the Abu Shouk IDP camp.

  The Press wasn't allowed for a single second into the Saudi hospital, despite one delegation making various representations about conditions once they had left.

  Rather, the Press was told to sit in a mini bus in front of the hospital. Here, Ibrahim Gambari approached to promise to try to ensure access to the program in Khartoum. He then jumped with armed guards into his four by four vehicle, which drove over and crushed green melons or squash painstakingly planted in front of the hospital.

UN Council members & Gambari, action on UNAMID inaction not shown (c) MRLee

  During the 24 hours the Security Council was in Darfur, two UNAMID civilian staff living outside the Super Camp were kidnapped. Thursday night a UNAMID spokesperson confided coyly that there had been a “security incident” but wouldn't say anymore. He said to Inner City Press, “you'll probably be the one to get the scoop, but I won't help you.”

Later UNAMID fed partial information to a wire service, that one of the staff escaped and another was still missing -- the government of Sudan, the UN said, was helping look for the staff member, who it emerged is Hungarian. Despite Gambari's UNAMID implying that the rebels did the taking, Lyall Grant used the kidnapping as his example of the deteriorating conditions in Darfur.

What about the 47 people killed at Tarabat Market last month while the UN took three days to even go? This appears not to have been mentioned.

  When at the airport Inner City Press asked Lyall Grant about Gambari's proposed hand over of five rebels to the Bashir government, and which it might mean for UN peacekeepers freedom of movement to places like Jebel Marra, Lyall Grant's main answer was that this wasn't in the Council's “terms of reference.”

  Lyall Grant offered nothing but praise for UNAMID and Gambari, despite the latter's closeness to the Bashir government. And on the plane to Khartoum, even an unusable account of the meeting with IDPs from which the Press was excluded was glossed over, with a mention of “ad hominen” attacks by the IDPs but, even in this format, no mention of Gambari's name.

  In Khartoum on Thursday night, things hardly got better in terms of transparency of the Council trip. The UNMIS Mission and its one year chief Haile Menkerios held an event with Council members, which the Press was not allowed to cover or attend.

  When the Council, with different members and Ambassadors, visited Khartoum in 2008, Inner City Press attended and covered the similar event thrown by then UNMIS chief Ashraf Qazi. So are the UN Security Council and UNMIS getting less rather than more transparent over time?

  The people the Council is meeting with on Saturday, it is not clear how and by whom they were selected. Watch this site.

Footnotes: in rare praise of Khartoum, once excluded by UNMIS and the Council, Inner City Press went with hard working Sudan-based journalists to the Papa Costa restaurant in downtown Khartoum, for grilled hamour from the Red Sea accompanied by a jazz quartet. It's not like this every day, one of the correspondent said.

  He pointed to a traffic circle that until recently, and four two years, had Al Qaeda graffiti. Now the government belatedly painted it over -- one tangible effect of the Council's lightening visit.

* * *

Leaving Darfur, UN & UK Defer to Gambari on Turn Overs to Bashir, Press Excluded

By Matthew Russell Lee

AL FASHER AIRPORT, October 8 -- The UN Security Council's Darfur trip was coordinated by UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who faced off on statistics with the Wali of North Darfur, chaired meetings with internally displaced people, then took seven questions from the media.

That the chief of the African Union - UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) Ibrahim Gambari is negotiating to turn over five rebels supporting Abdel Wahid Nur to the government of Omar al Bashir has been known, including by the UK Mission, since September 28 when Inner City Press published Gambari's draft letter to Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti.

But when Inner City Press at the Al Fasher Airport at the Darfur leg's conclusion asked Lyall Grant about “this issue whether UNAMID and JSR Gambari should turn over to the gov't the five suspends in the kalma camp,” and Adbel Wahid Nur's threat if the turn over takes place to stop communicating with UNAMID, viewing it as complicit in genocide.-- Lyall Grant ducked the question.

“That issue was not part of our terms of reference” he answered, adding that “now obviously that issue has come up in our various conversations. But it is for the JSR Gambari to resolve that situation.”

While it may in one sense “be up to” a JSR or SRSG to turn over people to a government whose president has been indicted for genocide and war crimes, one expects the Security Council, which created the peacekeeping mission and would have to deal with or at least vote on the fall out from turning rebels over to the government some years ago.

Lyall Grant continued that Gambari “has briefed us on it and believes that he can find a way through and a satisfactory solution.”

Just as it would be strange for the UN to rely on promises of indicted war criminal Omar al Bashir not to execute the Kalma Camp Five as a basis to turn them over, so some find it strange for the UK to defer entirely to Gambari, whose performance as UN envoy to the dictatorship in Myanmar the UK so lambasted.

Lyall Grant concluded his answer, “We haven't been looking specifically at that issue on this visit.” If not now, when? With Lyall Grant, one hopes that more was done than talked about. We'll see.

Lyall Grant and Gambari, oversight not shown - world turned sideways (c) MRLee

Minutes later, the moderator said “one more question.” Since no one else seemed to have one, he called on Inner City Press. But Lyall Grant cut in, “Let's have someone else for the last question.” Let's -- the question was a long winded one in Arabic from a radio station pro (and seemingly funded and controlled by) the Sudanese regime.

The question was translated by a UN interpreter who earlier on Friday chided the press bus for eating the hamburger and hot dog provided by the UN in eye shot of hungry children from the Abu Shouk IDP camp.

Footnote: later on Friday, back in Khartoum, the traveling press was not invited to an UNMIS event on a leg co-sponsored by Lyall Grant and Susan Rice of the US. On Saturday, the last day of the trip, the only press offering are a photo op at 10:30 with foreign minister Ali Karti, then another, one hopes better, press conference. Watch this site.

* * *

In Darfur, Gambari Criticizes Nur & Inner City Press on Video, Transcription Here

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 8 -- Peacekeepers were sent to Darfur after reports of a brutal campaign by the government of Omar al Bashir against opponents of his regime and civilians perceived as supporting them.

Now top peacekeeper Ibrahim Gambari, as shown by documents leaked to and published by Inner City Press, is near to turning over five supporters of rebel Abdel Wahid Nur to that same Bashir regime, in exchange for a promise by Bashir to commute any death sentence his courts impose.

Several members of the UN Security Council, which ostensibly oversees Gambari's actions along with the African Union, expressed surprise to Inner City Press once they saw the leaked documents, consisting of a draft letter and “Additional Terms” from Gambari to Bashir's foreign minister Ali Karti.

On the UN plane Thursday to El Fasher from South Sudan, US Ambassador Susan Rice told Inner City Press that she intends to inquire into Gambari's offers about the Kalma Camp Five while in Darfur. This echoed a statement of intention previously issued by another Permanent Member of the Council.

After a closed door meeting with the visiting Security Council members, Gambari and two of his military officials, in uniform, came to see the Press. Gambari called Inner City Press' publication of his draft documents “reprehensible” and told Inner City Press to “be careful... lives are at stake.”  Transcription below.

  Yeah, a witness to Gambari's statements later said, the lives of the Kalma Camp Five are at risk if the UN turns them over to a strongman already indicted for genocide and war crimes. “Is this what the UN should be doing?”

Gambari, Lyall Grant, Susan Rice, Churkin- oversight not seen? (c) MRLee

  Gambari's statements to Inner City Press were caught on video and will soon be published online as such. For now, here is a transcription, prepared late Thursday night at a guest house in El Fasher outside of Gambari's UNAMID compound:

Inner City Press asked Ibrahim Gambari, “What's happen with the Kalma Camp Five that you are considering turning over to the government... or that documents indicate you are considering turning over?”

Gambari answered: “Here is the situation. We have these five sheikhs who have been accused of some very serious offenses. We have no means as UNAMID to try them... Down the line if ever there was a death sentence, the President has the prerogative of mercy. All has been discussed confidentially. I want to say how reprehensible it was that somebody leaked the confidential communication of the government of Sudan...endangering the lives of those in the camps. The recipient of such a leak I think should also think twice about what they do considering that they are endangering the lives.. We've lost 27 peacekeepers between UNAMID and UNMIS, I mean AMIS.”

Inner City Press asked about Abdel Wahid Nur saying that if the Five are turned over, it will make UNAMID complicit in genocide, and that his group would not cooperate with the UN any more.

Gambari responded, “you quote words Abdel Wahid was supposed to have said... I met Khalil Ibrahim yesterday, asked how about how someone said JEM wants Gambari to resign for Tarabat Market. [He said he] ever said that, never authorized this... I want to hear from Abdel Wahid. I've been to Paris twice, I went to Tripoli...What happened in New York I condemn it. Matthew I have known you a long time, you should be careful... You are a recipient of a leaked document... Journalism also is a responsibility. I regard you as a friend, I used to, I regard you as a friend, I am admitting that.”

Of Abdel Wahid Nur, Gambari said: “He wants all issues resolved almost before he comes.”

“Matthew, I'm very angry with you , what are we supposed to do, keep people indefinitely?”

Inner City Press said, “Several Security Council members, when they saw the leaked documents, said they were not aware that you or UNAMID were in such discussions, and some expressed worry. How much is this Mission overseen by the Security Council?”

Gambari said “Ask them. Ask the S-G. I am responsible to two masters. You have the AU and you have the UN. The unity of the international community is key to finding a solution.”

Inner City Press said, as Gambari backed out the door toward his vehicle, “Transparency you can always say is dangerous, but I think it's probably a good thing.”

“No,” Gambari said. “Believe me, lives are at stake.”

Or maybe jobs, a witness to Gambari's statements later said, adding that the lives of the Kalma Camp Five are at risk if the UN turns them over to a strongman already indicted for genocide and war crimes. Among other lives put at risk, without oversight, transparency or explanation. “Is this what the UN should be doing?” Watch this site.

Footnote: it's worth noting that even before Inner City Press obtained and published Gambari's draft letter to Sudan's Ali Karti, Gambari had already expressed anger at Inner City Press' publication of other leaked documents concerning his time as UN envoy to Myanmar.

  That time, before the UN's September 24 high level meeting on Sudan, Gambari didn't argue about lives being at risk. He claimed the documents were “old” (2009) and not newsworthy. “Just leave me alone,” he said, having in the past declined to respond to questions sentto his UN e-mail address by Inner City Press. Now, the claim that lives are put at risk. Is it just opposition to transparency?

* * *

In Darfur, Gambari Attacks Publication of His Kalma Turn Over Documents, Says Press Puts At Risk

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 7 -- Hours after the UN Security Council and accompanying media including Inner City Press arrived Thursday at the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, the Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari came to visit the Press. Inner City Press asked Gambari about the turnover of five supporters of Abdel Wahid Nur documents obtained and published by Inner City Press show he is considering.

  Gambari responded angrily that the leaking and then publication of the documents puts people at risk. Inner City Press responded that others believe that the turnover would put people at risk, not only the five individual's turned over, who even as to execution would be relying on a promise by Omar al Bashir, already indicted for genocide - but also for UNAMID's own peacekeepers.

  As quoted by Radio Dabanga, Abdel Wahid Nur has said that if the turnover occurs, he and his movement will view UNAMID as complicit with the genocide Bashir has been indicted for.

  Inner City Press asked Gambari about what Abdel Wahid Nur told Radio Dabanga. Gambari responded that he does not believe quotes he reads -- Dabanga is, of course, a radio -- and gave as his example a recent talk with Khalil Ibrahim of JEM in which, Gambari said, Ibrahim said JEM had never called for Gambari to resign. Self-serving?

  Gambari said he was criticizing the Press “as a friend.” But to attack a publication for publishing a leak about the possible turnover of five people to one accused of genocide and war crimes seems strange.

  As Inner City Press said while Gambari left, several Security Council members had no idea Gambari was engaged in such negotiations. One Permanent Representative of a Permanent Five Council member told Inner City Press that, after checking with “the capital,” the issue would be raised on this trip. Susan Rice of the US said it would be looked into during the visit.

  “I have two masters,” he said, the African Union as well as the UN and its Security Council. So does Gambari confer with neither? Or with the African Union more than the UN?

  In the room in which Gambari meet with the Council Ambassadors, two hagiographic photographs are hung on the wall: the UN's Ban Ki-moon, and the AU's Jean Ping.

By having two masters, does Gambari answer only to himself?

Or as some say, to a resident of Khartoum, which Gambari reaches by Lear Jet?

* * *

Pro Bashir Protest Greets UN Council in Darfur, IDP Camp Visits in Play

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 7 -- Chants against the US and the International Criminal Court greeted the UN Security Council's 15 Ambassadors when they arrived in Darfur on Thursday. Inside the airport, a group of women chanted their devotion to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes and genocide.

At the airport gate, a larger crowd including children for a time blocked the Council's convoy, which ultimately broken through and rushed behind the barbed wire perimeter of the Super Camp of the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, UNAMID.

 Once inside, the Ambassadors were whisked in to meet with Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari and other UNAMID officials. Inner City Press went in too, for the promised photo opportunity at the beginning of the session.

  But in the corner, Gambari and Security Director Reddy were in intense conversation with US Ambassador Susan Rice, accompanied by her UK and Uganda counterparts Mark Lyall Grant and Ruhakana Rugunda.

Out window of UNSC bus, children waving fists, bridging not shown (c) MRLee

  Rather than freedom of movement for UN Peacekeepers and protection of civilians, the discussion seemed to revolve around the next days program of work: either a close-by internally displaced persons camp and then a Saudi-funded hospital, or an IDP camp some 20 kilometers from Al Fasher. Inner City Press, upon request, is not publishing the name of either camp. The impact of the protest that greeted the Council at the airport is not yet known.

Footnote: inside the UNAMID Super Camp, the Press was led to a welcome Internet cafe. But in seeking to leave the air conditioned container, Inner City Press was told that “you're really not supposed to wander around... I'll go with you.” Essentially, a minder system.

  Nevertheless UNAMID has its beauty: a V shape of birds in the sky, lit up periodically by lightening. After the call to prayer, people dropped to their knees in a larger, carpeted container. A UNAMID staffer said he rarely leaves the base. That's what the rebels say.

Watch this site, follow on Twitter @InnerCityPress.

 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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