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As Sudan Vote Marred by Technical Snafus, UN Assistance Questioned

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- With even the Sudanese government admitting widespread "technical" problems with its elections, questioning turned Tuesday to the value and quality of the UN's "technical assistance" to Sudan for its polling.

  When opposition parties said that the ballots were being misprinted by the government, the UN declined to take a position, saying that the UN's role was technical and logistical, not to be observers. When the European Union observers left Darfur as unsafe, the UN had little to say.

  On April 12, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon if the UN thought polling should be extended in light of the snafus. Mr. Ban replied that "the United Nations has been providing technical assistance and logistical support."

  Shouldn't the UN, then, have to respond to have logistically ballots weren't delivers, and technically, ballots were misprinted, with wrong names and wrong party symbols? What kind of technical assistance is this?

UN's Ban and Sudan's Bashir, technical assistance not shown

  At the April 13 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press pursued the issue:

Inner City Press: now that the Sudanese Government has acknowledged some technical problems with the election and has extended the voting… I remember, I went to a background briefing here where it was said that the UN was providing technical assistance. I understand that the UN, because it is providing technical assistance, is not observing the election or commenting on its fairness. But what does it say about the UN’s technical assistance that there are these wide-spread technical problems with the election?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, it was not just at a background briefing that you heard that the UN is providing technical assistance. I think that it has been said many times from here. The UN welcomes the National Election Commission's decision to extend the voting period. This would allow the Commission to overcome the various technical difficulties encountered in the first two days of the voting. And the UN also hopes that, precisely because there is now this extension by two days, it will enable more Sudanese voters to cast their vote, especially in areas and constituencies where the technical errors caused delays to the voting process or where voters have been unable to determine which polling centre they are registered in.

As we have said, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is providing technical assistance and logistical support to the National Election Commission, upon request from the Commission, and will continue to do so, within the Mission’s capability. And I think that is an important point -- within the capability of the Mission. This is in order to assist the Commission in coping with the remaining technical problems and the logistical challenges.

So this is, precisely, providing assistance. It is down to the Commission, if you like, the National Election Commission, to deliver. The UN Mission in Sudan has been providing technical and logistical support to allow the Commission to deliver. Clearly, there have been huge challenges, which we have talked about here and have been talked about a lot obviously in Sudan, too.

Inner City Press: One thing I want to understand is this usage of technical problems, technical assistance. It seems like one of the problems is like ballots that have the wrong names on them, ballots that have the wrong party symbol attached to names. I am just sort of wondering: what did the UN’s technical assistance consist of? Were they supposed to look at these ballots that were going to be mass distributed to make sure that they did not have the wrong party affiliations next to the names? What was the technical assistance? If these problems took place, I am struggling to understand what…

Spokesperson: There were all kinds of layers of assistance that was provided. But I think that the most important point here is that the assistance is provided to the Commission, and it is the Commission that then delivers. It is not for the UN to scrutinize every individual ballot slip in advance of them being distributed, for example. It is providing the technical know-how -- how do you conduct an election, how do you put in place the materials that are required.

  The "materials that are required" were not, in fact, in place. Some see the UN, at least its peacekeeping missions run by the Secretariat, as too close to the government. This sense is multiplied by the UN having paid a salary to pro government rebel leader Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem, and then refusing to answer basic questions. On this, Inner City Press asked Spokesman Nesirky:

Inner City Press: does the Joint Mediator [for Darfur], Djibril Bassolé… is he paid by the UN and who speaks for him? Does he have a separate spokesperson or are you, in a sense, his spokesperson? Or is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] his spokesperson? To whom would I direct questions to Mr. Bassolé in his UN capacity?

Spokesperson: Let me find out.

The question has also been put to the spokesman for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Watch this site.

* * *

As UN Paid Darfur Rebel Leader Ateem, UN Claims It Didn't Know What Bassole Did: Scandal Grows

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, April 9 -- In September 2009, a conference about Darfur was convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by the joint United Nations - African Union mediator, Djibrill Bassole.

  The goals included uniting various Darfur rebel groups under one umbrella to negotiate with Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party, and replacing the leader of the Fur ethnic group and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur who refused to negotiate until his Fur people were not threatened with violence.

Conveniently, an alternative Fur leader emerged, offering to stand in for Wahid al Nur and to lead the umbrella group and make peace with al-Bashir: El-Tigani El-Sissi Ateem (sometimes written "Al-Tijani Al-Sissi").

  The UN-AU's Bassole embraced Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem. But Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem was at that time, and had been since 2005, a paid UN staff member, of the UN Economic Commission for Africa also based in Addis Ababa.

  In the run up to Sudan elections, sources told Inner City Press that compliant Darfur rebel leader Eltijani Elsissi Ateem was paid by the UN from 2005 through March 8, 2010. Inner City Press asked and wrote an exclusive story on March 28; UN staff say that Bassole was asked.

  On April 8, Sudan's Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press that Eltijani is a "long time Darfur leader" who, as a convenient replacement for Fur leader Abdul Wahid Nur signed a deal with Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party. Video here.

  Eltijani did this work while being paid by the UN, in violation of UN staff rules. Some now question the UN's role in replacing one Fur leader with another, paid by the UN.

Al-Sissi (at right) and Bashir's representative Ghazi, UN funding of Al-Sissi not shown

   The UN in New York has so far sought to dodge all of these questions. Twice Inner City Press has asked in UN noon briefings in New York, then in writing, but was referred to the UN Economic Council for Africa in Addis Ababa, the UN unit which employed Eltijani.

Tb both the UNECA and the UN in New York, Inner City Press posed these questions:

What were El-Sissi’s official job responsibilities for the UN system?

Was the UN aware that El-Sissi was a member of the Umma Party?

Was his travel to Doha, Qatar in February funded by the UN? Was he on official business, or annual leave at this time?

Were the activities of the “Addis Ababa Roadmap group” supported, facilitated, or participated in by the UN?

Did any meetings of the “Addis Ababa Roadmap group” take place on UN premises?

ECA questions: To what extent did or does UNECA have responsibilities relating to the unification of the Darfur armed groups and development of a common position and a common negotiating team or the contribution in the development of a road map for the resolution of the Darfur conflict?

Was the Head of UNECA aware of Mr. El-Sissi’s activities in the Darfur process while he was employed by the UN? How long was El-Tijani El-Sissi employed by the UN?

   After first proferring only a single sentence, that ""ECA is not aware of its staff members activities outside of work, including Mr. Ateem's," this was received

Subject: Re: Questions on deadline
From: Mdessables [at]
Date: Fri, Apr 9, 2010 at 7:44 AM
To: Inner City Press, Matthew Russell Lee
Cc: S-G's Spokesperson, Deputy and Associate Spokespeople

Dear Matthew,

Mr. Eltigani Ateem started working for ECA on 10 February 2005 as Regional Advisor. Regional Advisory Services are made available upon request to Members states, sub-regional and continental organizations on socio-economic and political challenges.

In his capacity as Regional Advisor, Mr. Ateem, upon request of the Head of State of Libya, then Chair of the African Union (AU), to ECA's Executive Secretary, was asked to serve as resource person and help support the joint AU-UN efforts in addressing the Darfur conflict. As part of this process, Mr. Ateem traveled to Doha, Qatar in February 2010. This travel was not funded by ECA.

This initiative followed earlier involvement of Mr. Ateem who, at the request of the World Bank, served as a member of the Advisory Panel on Darfur Joint Assessment Mission in 2006.

ECA did not support, facilitate or participate in the activities of the “Addis Roadmap Group” and no meeting of the “Addis Roadmap Group” took place on ECA premises.

ECA is not aware of Mr. Ateem’s political affiliations.

ECA has no responsibility related to the Darfur Negotiations.

Myriam Dessables
Chief Information and Communication Service
UN Economic Commission for Africa

  A UN source, when told of the response that Mr. Al-Sissi's political affiliations were unknown, burst out laughing. At the April 9 UN noon briefing in New York, Inner City Press asked Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq which UN units were involved in work to unify the Darfur rebels: the Department of Peackeeping Operations under Alain Leroy, the Department of Political Affairs under Lynn Pascoe, or other UN units, like Bassole's?

   Haq acknowledged that to do political work while paid by the UN violates staff rules. But he said he would have to check which UN units were involved. There is no question that Bassole's UN-funded unit was involved. That Bassole was asked about Al-Sissi's status only confirms it.

UN's Ban and Bassole, funding of pro-government rebel not shown

   That Bassole's office is funded by the UN is demonstrated in para 6 of A/63/717 (dated 17 Feb 2009; "Budget for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur for the period from 1 July 2009to 30 June 2010").

6. The Joint Mediation Support Team is supported by UNAMID. The Joint Chief Mediator, who is the head of the Team, reports to the Secretary-General through the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission through the Commissioner for Peace and Security. The Joint Chief Mediator liaises closely with the Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and other relevant stakeholders. The Joint Chief Mediator is entrusted with leading the mediation efforts between the parties to the Darfur conflict with a view to bringing them to peace negotiations.

The Chart on page 82 of this document (A/63/717) shows that under Bassole, he has 39 positions located in Addis, including 1 D-2, and 1 D-1.  One wonders how Mr Ateem fits into this.

Also, S/2010/151 (Letter dated 23 March 2010 from the Permanent Representative of the Sudan to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council), dated 24 March 2010.  It includes a photocopy of the signed Doha agreement, which includes Eltigrani Ateem's signature.  Interestingly, he uses yet a different version and spelling of his name: "Dr. Tejani Sisei Mohammed Ateem"

Para 30 of the SG's Report on the United Nations Mission in Sudan (S/2009/357; 14 July 2009) said

The African Union-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator, Djibrill Bassolé, met with the Tripoli Group (comprised of five rebel movements) in Sirte, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from 28 to 30 June to discuss the possible participation of the Group in the Doha negotiations. The mediation also held broad consultations in Darfur, Khartoum and Tripoli with representatives from Sudanese civil society, non-governmental organizations and tribal leadership to underline the intention to broaden participation in the Darfur peace process.

Paras 69, 71 of the SG's Report on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (S/2010/50; 29 January 2010) stated

69. As the political process gains momentum, and in order to build on the significant work of the Joint Chief Mediator, Djibrill Bassolé, to increase engagement among the parties to the conflict, I urge all parties to cease armed confrontation and engage in a meaningful way in substantive, inclusive discussions.

71. In the context of the political process, it is critical that the national elections scheduled for April 2010 provide an opportunity for all Darfurians, particularly internally displaced persons, to participate fully and completely unhindered.

Bassole has already said he wants to leave his UN post. But that will not resolve the matter. Who knew what, when? Beyond the questions pending with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office, Inner City Press has asked UNECA:

1. You say that Mr Ateem's travel to Doha in February 2010 was not funded by the UN. Who funded it? Were Mr Ateem's salary and benefits during his tenure as a UN employee from February 2005 to March 2010 funded by the UN, and if not, by whom?

2. Who was Mr. Ateem's reporting officer, viz to whom within ECA was he responsible?

3. Is ECA responsible for or does it take any credit for unification of the Darfur armed groups and development of a common position and a common negotiating team, or contributing to the development of a road map for the resolution of the Darfur conflict, or are these tasks which UNECA has nothing to do with?

While awaiting answers, and accountability, note that the UN is now doing all it can to dodge from the fact that for five years its Addis office employed as a staff member a former governor of Darfur who is also a significant figure in Sudan's Umma party.  This individual, Mr. Eltigani Ateem, who while serving as a UN staff member in the "NEPAD and Regional Integration Division" of the Addis-based UN Economic Commission of Africa, was assigned official responsibility for promoting the unification of Darfur armed groups and for developing a Darfur Road Map.

This raises significant questions about the staff selection and assignment practices of the UN, which we've seen before.  Is it appropriate for a former [and current] national political figure to be assigned work directly related to his own country?  Ibrahim Gambari, the UN's new envoy to Darfur who confirmed to Inner City Press that Al-Sissi worked for ECA, fell under fire for taking a leave to attempt to mediate disputes in the Niger Delta of his native Nigeria. But Al-Sissi was getting paid by the UN while moonlighting as a rebel leader in his native Sudan.

For their part, the UN is employing normal avoidance tactics in response to Inner City Press' questions.  First, the SG's assistant spokespersons refused to even accept numerous questions, deferring to UNECA's media shop.  After a time, UNECA finally responded, denying not only knowledge of Mr Ateem's political baggage, but also that UNECA had any role in supporting the "unification of armed groups" or the "road map."

Unfortunately for the UN, this evasion does not square with the facts.  "Subprogram 4" of UNECA's own "results" framework reflects the following claims:

Result 2: Development of a set of policy recommendations for post conflict reconstruction and development in areas and countries emerging from conflict, with particular emphasis on Darfur; Unification of the Darfur armed groups and development of a common position and a common negotiating team; Contribution in the development of a road map for the resolution of the Darfur conflict.

Interestingly, in 2007 Mr. Ateem, in his UNECA capacity, presented a paper at a conference in the UK titled "The Root Causes of Conflicts in Sudan and the Making of the Darfur Tragedy."  This paper clearly identifies Ateem as working for the NEPAD & Regional Integration Division.  One telling excerpt from the paper states that

After the DPA was partially signed by one faction of the SLM in May 2005, some neighbouring countries introduced further polarisation within the rebel movements, something that has seriously jeopardized the AU/UN-led efforts to resuscitate the peace talks with the non-signatories.

 However, just two years later, at in late 2009 talks in Doha, Mr. Ateem expressed his qualified interest in becoming the leader of a unified Darfur rebel organization, reportedly stating "I'm ready to lead the new movement if all of you commit yourself to a real and strong unity."  The UN's Mr. Ateem finally got his wish in February 2010, UN/AU Mediator Djibril Bassole proudly (and rather strangely) announced Mr. Ateem's leadership of a unified Darfur rebel structure, and that this should "pave the way for holding constructive dialogue and setting frameworks for detailed negotiations that would lead to reaching a peace accord."

  Bassole has already said he wants to leave his UN post. But that will not resolve the matter. Who knew what, when? Watch this site.

* * *

On Sudan, Moonlighting UN Staffer as Darfur "Rebel" Leader, As JEM Is Pressed to Support Elections on April 11

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, March 28 -- With elections in Sudan approaching as threats and irregularities multiply, a United Nations employee in Addis Ababa Al-Tijani Al-Sissi suddenly emerged as the head of newly formed rebel Liberation and Justice Movement. Beyond the politics, one wonders how a person can be a paid UN employee and at the same time by a pro-government "rebel" leader?

  Despite Al-Sissi being out of The Sudan for 20 years, and being a full time staffer of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa, he was brought to the fore as purported replacement for Abdel Wahid Al-Nur, leader of the legacy rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, whose Fur tribe has thus been unrepresented as Al-Nur refuses to participate in the Darfur talks much less elections.

  A Fur willing to talk with al-Bashir was needed, and a UN staffer was found. But to be a leader, he must have put time into the rebel movement, while being a UN staffer. Why was this accepted?

  Inner City Press is informed that Al-Sissi's supervisor at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Abdalla Hamdok, complained about the moonlighting or double service of Al-Sissi, but that nothing was done.

  This does not look good, one long suffering Darfuri told Inner City Press on Friday. The UN has some explaining to do: watch this site.

Al-Tijani Al-Sissi, moonlighting from UN ECA job not shown but accepted

  Meanwhile, with Sudanese opposition parties nearing a decision next week on whether to boycott the April 11 election if Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party does not agree to postpone it, Inner City Press is told by Arab Group ambassadors at the UN that pressure is being brought to bear on Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement rebels to have JEM come out favor of April 11 polling.

  "Khalil Ibrahim has been summoned to Doha," Inner City Press was told by an attendee of the March 26 meeting of the Arab Group, at the Ambassadorial level, held in the UN's new building by New York's East River.

  At the UN on Friday, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky to explain Ban's quote in Al Hayat against any postponement of the election, video here, transcript here:

Inner City Press: There is an interview that the Secretary-General gave with Al Hayat about… there are portions about President Bashir -- that he would not meet with him unless “absolutely necessary”. But particularly it seemed to be quoting him as saying that he is not in favour of any postponement of the Sudanese election. Something the opposition parties there requested and the Carter Center has said that -- and I believe that the UN in a background briefing has said -- that 11 April would be would very difficult to accomplish. So, what does he mean by no postponement? He believes it absolutely should be held on 11 April?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Read out the exact quote.

Inner City Press: Okay: “I understand that elections could be postponed for a short period of time, but why should be made to postpone the month of November? I am not sure it can properly [be] arranged at that time.” So I am asking, I guess there are some words missing there, but…

Spokesperson: Yes, there are some words missing. I read that, too, and there are some words missing in that transcript. What I think is clear is, as we have said before and has been said from here, there are fairly considerable technical challenges to delivering that election for the Government that is in the driving seat on this, and for those who are providing technical assistance. It is a considerable undertaking. What I think he is suggesting there is that, if there is a delay, it does not mean that it will be any easier should there be a delay to deliver at a later date. I think that is all he is saying.

  But some see a connection, which the UN has yet to address, to the UN housing or hosting a pro-government rebel leader to support talks with Al-Bashir, while also ignoring Sudanese opposition parties' call for a postponement in light of abuse. Watch this site.

Footnote: on the above quote by Ban Ki-moon, which came from the Sudan Tribune's pick-up of Al Hayat's interview, a junior Al Hayat correspondent ran into the UN press briefing room to say that her newspaper's version of the transcript did not have any words missing. While Inner City Press then explained where it got the quote from, strangely neither statement was included in the UN's transcript, although both can be seen in the video, here.

 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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