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In Ban's UN, a Headless Sudan Mission and an Airstrip for War Criminals from Uganda

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 9 -- Who is minding the UN's store in Sudan? Eight months ago, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jan Pronk, was expelled from the country by president al-Bashir. Kofi Annan chose to not replace him, as a subtle, too subtle protest of al-Bashir's expulsion order, and because Ban Ki-moon was taking over in two months. But in the six months since, while making other appointments -- most recently his countryman Choi Soon-hong as Assistant Secretary General for information technology -- Ban has yet to appoint a replacement of Jan Pronk.

      Monday at the UN, Inner City Press asked why. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: ...not only is there is no Special Representative of the Secretary-General but that the Deputy, Manuel da Silva has left and that the head of UN OCHA has left.  This article quotes the head of the non-profit that partnered on the Rwanda exhibit, saying that the lack of leadership is appalling, Ban Ki-moon has taken the pressure off the Government of Sudan... Can you, number one, factually confirm that Deputy Manuel da Silva has left and that head of UN OCHA is no longer in Sudan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Deputy SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) for Sudan is the head of the OCHA office.  So I believe that's the same individual.  And yes, my understanding was that he was due to leave.  I do know that he was due to leave around this time. But in terms of who is on the ground, we do have an acting Special Representative, in the name of Taye Zerihoun, who is a veteran on the ground, and he's been holding the fort.  We don't have an announcement on a new SRSG for Sudan, but Mr. Zerihoun is very much on the ground in charge.

Inner City Press: The same article actually says that the Deputy is eager to leave.  I don't know what the sourcing of that is, but I guess, is there some way that we could... given that it is now many months since there's been a SRSG in this important country, what's the hang-up, are they checking with people?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, Sudan, especially Darfur, is a top priority for the Secretary-General.  So I know that there is an active search underway and as soon as we can announce something we will.

            The image of Taye Zerihoun "holding [down] the fort" has historic connotations. But the question remains: no SRSG for six months? Recently a Nigeria correspondent asked pointedly why there been no replacement for two months of the UN's Special Advisor for Africa. Sources say that at least in that case, the post was offered to someone, who was not prepared to take it. But if "Sudan, especially Darfur, is a top priority for the Secretary-General," the appointment(s) should be made. Enough is enough.

UN's light support package -- very light

UN's "Airstrip for War Criminals" (Lords Resistance Army)

            Another unclarity with the UN in south Sudan, and regarding Uganda and the International Criminal Court, emerged last week. On July 3, Inner City Press asked, according to the transcript:

Inner City Press: There is a report that the UN is involved in building an airstrip near where the Lordís Resistance Army is in Garamba National Park to ferry them to the talks with the Uganda Government.  It is widely reported that that is taking place.  Can you confirm that the UN is involved, and if so, I guess, what funds does it come out of, I guess would be one question.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I'll look into that for you.  No, I can't confirm that information.  I have not received information.  I have seen the press report.

            Later, the following came in by email:

Regarding your question about the airstrip near Garamba National Park -- the following is attributable to OCHA spokesperson... There is an airstrip that was constructed to improve landing conditions, as fixed wing aircraft are safer than helicopters.  It is part of facilitating the negotiations.  Since it now exists, the airstrip is sometimes used to deliver humanitarian supplies to civilian populations in need in the area.  However, there are numerous inaccuracies in the article that appeared in the Monitor (Kampala), including the fact that Ms. Phillips does not work for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

            That seeming strange, Inner City Press sent an inquiry e-mail to Ms. Phillips, which was auto-responded to:

"I will be out of the office starting  06/28/2007 and will not return until 07/16/2007."

            Perhaps we'll learn more at that time. Meanwhile, despite the July 3 question, the inquiry must continue, into what unit of the UN paid for the construction -- described by one source as "a UN-funded airstrip for war criminals." Others argue, passionately, that it is an investment to try for peace. But if the UN believes it's worth doing, it should be worth disclosing.

   The LRA leaders continue to demand that the ICC drop the indictments. And on July 2, Vice President for South Sudan Riek Machar lost his portfolio of minister of housing, public land and public utility in a cabinet reshuffle in Juba.  Since Machar has been the mediator between the LRA and the Museveni government, later supplemented by the UN's not-heard-from-for-some-time Joaquim Chissano, remains to be seen...

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540