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In S. Sudan, UN Knows of Fighting in Bahr el Ghazal, Internal Memos Here

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- For weeks amid fighting in South Sudan, Inner City Press has asked the UN why it refuses to report even what it knows. Even as Inner City Press has obtained, asked about and published emails showing the UN's knowledge of fighting, the UN spokesperson has repeated, Ask UNMISS.

 Now Inner City Press has obtained an UNMISS situation report stating

"On 05 December 2015 at 22:40 hrs, reportedly SPLA and SPLA-IO clashed at Bisilia, Bazia Farajalla, and Bringi in Western Bahr el Ghazal. No further information is available regarding the fighting. On 06 December, there is a mobile network blackout since early morning as all the three networks (MTN, Zain and Vivacell) in Wau are not available. As SPLA blocking the main Wau airport road and restricting movements around Wau airport, the ASC declared Grey Alert State at Wau town. All UN travel is restricted, except for travel movements explicitly authorized by the HoA/Units on a case-by-case basis linked to PC 1-2. All staff members are requested to monitor their radios for further announcements."

 This was followed by a shorter announcement with different spelling:

"Ref: 084/SB/07/12/2015

This is to inform all UN staff members that due to insecurity, Grey Alert Status has been declared for the following locations in Western Bahr El  Ghazal State;

1.        Farajallah
2.        Bussare
3.        Bazia
4.        Bissellia

GREY Alert Status: All UN travel is restricted, except for travel/movements explicitly authorized by the Heads of Agency or Units on a case-by-case basis linked to PC 1-2."

 PC 1-2 means critical or essential. We'll have more on this.

Amid reports of renewed fighting in the Equatoria states, Inner City Press on November 25 asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about the fighting, and a peacekeeper killed on November 23. The (non) answers are below.

On December 2, Inner City Press obtained a UN email acknowledging knowledge of fighting between the Government and SLPA/IO in Busere, Western Bahr El Ghazal State, stating that “fighting is still ongoing as of 02 Dec 2015” and that “no UN interest is involved at this time.”

  UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said he doesn't get these emails. Inner City Press asked why UN Peacekeeping, led by Herve Ladsous, does not report on fighting of which it is aware, and how “no UN interest is involved” is consistent with the UN's protection of civilians mandate or claims.

   Dujarric wouldn't even attempt an answer to this policy question (which Ladsous refuses, like other Press questions, to answer). Dujarric repeated, as if it were an answer, that he has not seen the email.

  So Inner City Press publishes it, here:

"From: Enoch Penney Laryea

Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2015 9:15 AM

To: SANTUR Abdulahi; Simon Agnew [WFP]; Christoffel Du Toit; Safari Djumapili [OCHA]; Ruiz, Domingo (FAOSS); Carlyne Romulus [at UNMAS] Sorin GIFEI [WFP], Shane Yates [UNCHR]; Abdikadir Tulicha; Sylvain Denairies; UNMISS-FHQ-J2;  John McCue (IOM); Gatluak Gatluak [and others at UNICEF], IMF

Subject: FW: Fighting in Busere - Western Bahr El Ghazal State

"Info received indicate that on 01 Dec 2015 at about 05:00 hours (LT) fighting erupted between SPLA and SPLA/IO at FIRKA and BUSERE (20 km South of Wau town). The fighting subsided around 10:00 hours. Military pickups and ambulances were observed transporting casualties along the airport road at high speed towards the military barracks. SPLA soldiers in the town were seen to be on high alert and on stand by mode.

"Comments: Reportedly the SPLA/IO group attacked SPLA at the affected area. When SPLA soldiers were sent to reinforce their colleagues they were also ambushed by the rebels leading to further casualties on the part of SPLA.

"Fighting is still ongoing as of 02 Dec 2015.

"No UN interest is involved at this time."

Again, why doesn't Ladsous' DPKO report this, and how is this “no UN interest is involved at this time” consistent with the UN's protection of civilians mandate or claims? We'll have more on this.

Inner City Press obtained the UN Security Situation Report for November 29, and finds in this internal report, exclusively published here:

"On 28 November 2015 at around 22:45 hrs, in Yambio town near Tourist Hotel along the main road, a UN Agency national staff member was reportedly involved in a traffic accident. UN Security responded to the scene of the incident and found another civilian vehicle turned over with the driver apparently dead inside the vehicle whilst the UN agency staff member sustained visible injuries in his head. The local police on the spot attempted to arrest the UN staff member involved in the accident, however,
after negotiation UN Security transported him to UN clinic for the medical treatment."

 Can you say, impunity? On December 1, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here:

Inner City Press: on South Sudan, it was said on Friday that the Mission was going to go and check these deaths.  And I’ve been looking at these [situation reports].  It seems to me that they’re not really reporting on things that even the media’s reporting of attacks in the country.  So, one, do you have anything on that?  And, I wanted to ask you about something that was in one of the [situation reports], yesterday’s, where it says that a UN staff member was driving a car.  He had a crash.  UNDSS [United Nations Department of Safety and Security] appeared and said that the sustained visible… somebody was dead in the other car.  Basically, it’s a deadly car crash caused… or involving the UN staff member.  The reason I’m asking you is, it says the local police on the spot attempted to arrest the UN staff; however, after negotiation, the UN staff member was taken for medical treatment.  What is… are UN staff members exempt from traffic laws even in deadly crashes?

Spokesman:  I don’t… this seems to me like an isolated incident.  I would encourage you to reach out to the mission to see if you can get more detail.  I’m not going to speculate on…

Inner City Press:  But the policy is not isolated.  The guy is dead.

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate on this particular case, but if you reach out to the mission, I’m sure they…

Inner City Press:  But can you find out what the UN policy is on negotiating the release of…?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate

  Haq on November 25 said he had nothing on the fighting, but said that the peacekeeper who was shot was from Ethiopia and who fired the shot was unknown. On November 27, having received information from South Sudan on both issues, Inner City Press asked the UN in writing: "please state if the UN / UNMISS or its affiliated radio station is/are aware of airstrikes on Gariya Bongolo, Western Equatoria in South Sudan, and separately if they are aware of or belief that Ugandan aircraft were involved."

Later on November 27, the UN sent Inner City Press this:

"Regarding your question on Wednesday on fighting in South Sudan's Equatoria state, we can say the following: On 26 November, UNMISS received unconfirmed reports that 14 people had been killed and a number of people injured 30 km south of Mundri town. The Mission is seeking to verify these reports, and the number of casualties reported."

 But how hard, really, was and is UNMISS trying to verify? No update was provided for three days; when Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on November 30, he had no information.

 It's worth noting that the UN-affiliated Radio Miraya reported on the killings. Inner City Press has heard, "UPDF helicopter gunships attacked and killed civilians while purporting to be hunting SPLA IO forces. When finished in Mundri the caretaker Governor of WES Patrick Zamoi has requested helicopter attacks on Ezo."

    When the UN is criticized for how it treats internally displaced people (IDPs), does it seek to improve, or only grow defensive? On November 19, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here:

Inner City Press: In South Sudan, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has asked publicly for UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] to increase the space available to IDPs [internally displaced people] in the Malakal protection site, saying basically they're crammed in and seems to violate even the sort of standards put out by UN and others.  What is UNMISS doing about these?  They have more space.

Spokesman Dujarric:  What UNMISS is doing is sheltering over 100,000 people since the start of the Civil War in very difficult conditions, in places that were not designed to house people.  They were not designed to be… to hold internally displaced people.  These were, for most of them, logistics bases.  The mission is constantly trying to improve the conditions, whether it's hygiene and living standards.  Obviously, we're limited by space, by funds, and we're trying to do the best we can.

Inner City Press:  Well, I guess… I mean, but are they saying MSF doesn't understand that?  They work in the camp but they're saying the people…

Spokesman Dujarric:  I'm not saying MSF… MSF says what it feels needs to be said, and I say what I feel I need to say.

But what will be done?

 On October 26, based on NGO and AP reporting, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about South Sudan, there's reports by something called the protection cluster there that 80 civilians have been killed mostly by Government attacks in Leer County in the month of October.  So people there are asking, where is UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan]?  And it seems that UNMISS has not sent any patrols.  They're in Bentiu.  And I wanted to know, can you find out if there's any plan…

Spokesman:  Where is UNMISS?  UNMISS has been, I think, providing protection for more than 100,000 civilians and has been doing a superhuman job, for lack of a more adequate diplomatic word, in terms of trying to protect as many civilians as possible.  The Mission does send out patrols where it can and observes what it can.  I will take a look at that specific report and get back to you.

Inner City Press:  Yeah.  It seems like in Bentiu, they have peacekeepers from Mongolia, Ethiopia, India and Ghana…

Spokesman:  No, I am well aware of where peacekeepers are.  You're also talking about a country that's currently in the middle of a civil conflict.  I think the Mission is doing… is stretching itself and doing whatever it can to protect civilians.  So as I said, I will look into that specific report.

  Well, here's from the report by the Protection Cluster: "Over a three week period between 4 and 22 October, at least 80 civilians were reportedly killed in Leer County. Among these were at least 57 children, 29 of whom drowned while fleeing attacks.2 Widespread use of sexual violence was also reported, with contacts on the ground reporting over 50 cases of rape. IDPs further reported that Government forces shot into swamps at fleeing civilians, burned houses, and abducted women and children."

 We'll have more on this.

From September 29, 2015: An internal UN document leaked to Inner City Press, which is exclusively publishing it today, shows the high degree of dysfunction in the country, and in the UN.

UN's South Sudan Report, Sept 2015, Leaked to Inner City Press by Matthew Russell Lee

  Here are some quotes, the full document we have put online here:

Within South Sudan the inextricable link with the Government’s political party SPLM with the SPLA military has exacerbated the crisis and this bond is also a potential stumbling block to finding a peaceful solution in the future. Currently the Government cannot adequately protect its population or institutions and therefore by extension is also unable to provide adequate protection to UN personnel or assets. The fragmentation of the military from the beginning of the crisis, the misuse of national security agencies and the economic status resulting from the collapse of state structure and drop in income, has led to further political instability.

This assessment defines that the UN is not a primary target for direct violence. However, this situation could change if the economic situation declines further, the military armed conflict continues and tensions rise within PoC sites.

Currently there is no mainstreaming of Security within the planning of UN activities/ programmes. Therefore, the policy that defines that security needs to be involved at all levels of management to ensure security is considered/ mainstreamed into all activities or programmes is not applied, specifically in UNMISS.

The high prevalence of alcohol and illicit drug use within the PoC sites has exacerbated violence and criminal behaviour directly impacting upon UN and AFP personnel working or living within or adjacent to the PoC sites. The smuggling of weapons into the PoCs poses a potential Direct Threat to UNMISS and AFP staff.

 Continued accusations by government actors or affiliates that the PoC sites are sanctuary for supporters of the SPLA in Opposition also make the PoC sites a target; this point was actively demonstrated in the attack in the Bor in April 2014 resulting in the death of 55 IDPs within the UNMISS site.

Prior to December 2013, the UN was well regarded by the South Sudanese for its role in the drive towards independence from Sudan, for its humanitarian interventions and for efforts to protect civilians. But the ongoing crisis in South Sudan has also negatively impacted on sentiments and threats directed to UN personnel in the course of their work, for example IDPs insisting that national staff not from their preferred ethnic group are removed from programme activities in POC sites and some Ugandan UNPOL having to wear civilia clothes and be removed from POC duty due to active UPDF military support for the
Government of South Sudan.

In March 2014, a labelling error was discovered whilst transporting containers loaded with duty equipment for the UN Ghanaian peacekeepers in Unity State which brought strained relations to even a lower point. The error was exploited to galvanise hostility towards the UN in favour of the government by falsely presenting the UN as supplying weaponry to the opposition. It took elaborate interventions, investigations
and communications to clear the false impression that this created.

[ICP note: the same type of "labeling" or "clerical" error occure this months with weapons headed to MONUSCO. This is what UN Peacekeeping has become under Herve Ladous, who linked peacekeepers' rapes to "R&R, here.]

On 26 August 2014 under suspicious circumstances a UN contracted helicopter crashed near Bentiu in Unity State, killing three (3) aircrew and injuring one (1) other, underlining the threats involved in working within South Sudan. Investigations into the cause of the crash were inconclusive.

There have been increasing reports of criminal acts occurring within the Protection Of Civilian (POC) sites; also there have been a number of serious assaults against the UN and other humanitarian workers, sometimes involving weapons which
has resulted a few times of hospitalisation of personnel. These incidents have, and continue to affect not only the civilians seeking refuge at UN sites, but also the ‘safety and security’ of individual UNMISS and Agencies Funds and Programmes (AFP)

"In February 2015 there was an alleged sexual assault of a Canadian INGO by a subcontractor for a UN Agency in UNMISS Bentiu team site."

[ICP note: the UN and UNICEF have not addressed this; the head of UN Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, has linked rapes to R&R.]

As the fighting also continues at a pace within Sudan on two fronts – Darfur and Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan in particular) the impact for the whole border region cannot be ignored. Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are also carrying out
aerial bombing campaigns in the Nuba Mountains but also extending into South Sudan in November 2014 to hit alleged JEM targets in Raja, Western Bahr el Ghazal which killed 24 people including women and children.

South Sudan lacks an adequate air traffic control system, countrywide. The government took control of the country’s airspace from Sudan in 2011, but to date has not issued any “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAMs.). There are areas, however, that the government has declared a “no fly zone” (i.e. over the Presidential Palace in Juba), suggesting that the government reserve the right to fire upon an aircraft that violates this airspace.

The SPLA-io has reportedly mined the roads to the north of
Bentiu resulting in several incidents of vehicles being destroyed and civilian casualties. This is of particular concern to the UN as these routes are a vital corridor in delivering humanitarian aid.

The existing EU sanctions delivered in July 2014 had little impact on the deescalating of the crisis."

We'll have more on this.


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