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After Bor, S. Sudan Wants Review of UN Mandate & SOFA, Now Obama Sanctions?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April  20 -- With the death-count from the killings at the UN Peacekeeping facility in Bor not yet fixed, South Sudan's foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin on April 18 said the UN has been told its Status of Forces Agreement and mandate will be re-negotiated - and by implication possibly ended.

  Will this trigger the sanctions threatened by the US even before Bor?

  The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has or is supposed to have SOFAs everywhere it operates.

  For context, the SOFA for the UN's Abyei mission was unsigned for a long time, even as four Ethiopian peacekeepers were killed by landmines but weren't evacuated in the more straight forward way. DPKO chief Herve Ladsous repeatedly refused to answer Press questions about this. Compilation here.

   On the other hand, in Haiti the claims commission provided for in the SOFA was never established, now an issue in litigation about the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. Again, Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions. Since in South Sudan, it is deputy Toby Lanzer doing the talking and not Hilde Johnson, perhaps someone in DPKO other than Ladsous can answer Press questions?

   Ladsous has for example gone semi-public that South Sudan was blocking an unspecified national contingent of peacekeepers he wanted to send there.

  While Ladsous refused to answer, multiple sources told Inner City Press it concerned Morocco soldiers that South Sudan said it wouldn't accept due to adherence to the African Union position on Western Sahara. That Ladsous is a former French diplomat, the fourth Frenchman in a row atop DPKO, makes the refusal to answer, now aped by the French Mission to the UN, trigger more rather than less inquiry.

   This new SOFA talk comes as South Sudan's information minister on April 18 cast blame on the UN. He said that the UN should not have fired bullets in the air, it stirred up the youth.

  On April 17, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the press at the day's noon briefing, "the UN Mission in South Sudan gave us more details on the attack on its base in Bor.  It says that the assailants — a mob of armed civilians — came to the base under the guise of peaceful demonstrators intending to present a petition to UNMISS.  The armed mob forced entry onto the site and opened fire on the internally displaced persons sheltering inside the base."

  On April 18 in Juba, South Sudan's Information Minister -- about whom Inner City Press has previously sought comment from the UN, without anything of substance being offered -- said that IDPs celebrating rebels recapturing Bentiu provoked the youth to protest, and that the UN angered them by firing in the air.

  Back on April 3, US President Barack Obama threatened sanctions with regard to South Sudan. Are they triggered now? If not now, when?

  Obama's Press Secretary Jay Carney said "both the Government of South Sudan and Riek Machar’s rebels must immediately engage in and follow through on the inclusive peace process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development."

   One issue has been that while Uganda intervened on the side of the government, it is also part of the ostensible mediator, IGAD. Obama's Executive Order refers to "international security presences" and "other peacekeeping operations" - does either term encompass the Uganda forces?

  Back on March 25, returning from South Sudan and Darfur John Ging, the Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and his Emergencies colleague Yasmin Haque spoke movingly of the need to reduce the number of checkpoints on aid convoys in South Sudan.

Inner City Press asked Ging if this increased checking wasn't a result of what even the UN has said was a mistake, the trucking rather than flying of weapons to the Ghanian peacekeepers in Bentiu.

  Ging acknowledged that this was the government's rationale for the checks but said, "We do not accept it."

  Time did not permit but there is an obvious follow up question: if the UN wants to put the arms-shipment scandal behind it, shouldn't it be more transparent? It has said its probe is finished, but no written report has been made public.

UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, speaking to the Security Council on March 19, chose instead to complain of a "vilification of the UN" including in "media articles."

  Inner City Press asked Ging and Haque if they had witnessed such vilification during their trip to South Sudan. No, Ging said, this was not directed at the UN's humanitarian side. So it's either limited to UN Peacekeeping of Ladsous and Hilde Johnson, or Ladsous has a lower threshold of getting angry at media coverage.

  At the third question, Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access thanked Ging for doing Q&A when he comes back from trips, and expressed hope that this becomes a trend or expectation. Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions, video here - but even Jeff Feltman, back today from Ukraine, is said not to plan any press availability. Why not?

  The first question was given to Pamela Falk of CBS as head of the old UN Correspondents Association, which rather than push for example for Ladsous to have to answer has in fact come to his defense, grilling Inner City Press about an article about Ladsous until Inner City Press quit UNCA (and co-founded FUNCA).

  Now, will Falk with this automatic first question get a story about South Sudan onto CBS? If not, and even leaving aside UNCA becoming the UN's Censorship Alliance, how is this automatic first question justified?

  Having been given the first question, she left the briefing room while others were still waiting to ask. There wa a scheduled stakeout by the UN's Lebanon envoy Plumbley, which Inner City Press and others interested had to miss. UNmiss.

  Inner City Press also asked Ging about Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; he said the UN still has no access to opposition held areas. He cited Jebel Marra in Darfur. Ladsous, in Pakistan, was quoted that the UNAMID mission in Darfur will shrink.

  Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it and was told that if Pakistan's number of troops goes does, something will be said. But that wasn't the question. And while Ladsous was reportedly seeking women police and peacekeepers in Pakistan, when a woman who served in UNAMID in Darfur was disciplined for it, UN Peacekeeping has no comment, and has it seemed done nothing. UNmiss.

  The briefing ended with Ms Haque saying that more important than "donor fatigue" is the fatigue of children without food in South Sudan. Now that, is true. Watch this site.


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