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At UN, No Answers on Sudan Election Flaws Hostage Takers of Peacekeepers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19 -- On Sudan, the UN on Monday dodged questions not only about irregularities in the elections to which it ostensibly provided technical assistance, but even about its own peacekeepers taken hostage.

  While it appears that the hostage takes are government affiliates faux rebels in Darfur, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky doggedly maintained that the UN is working with the government to secure their release. He did not disclose whether the UN or South Africa, from which the peacekeepers come, is considering paying ransom, financial or political.

From the April 19 UN noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: the so-called Sudan troika -- it’s the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States -- they put out a statement this morning by the United States State Department, saying that the elections in Sudan failed to meet international standards, and this, the quote I wanted to ask you about: “We regret that the National Elections Commission (NEC) did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting.” Since it was described that the UN was providing technical assistance to the NEC, what does the UN say of this criticism implicitly of its own work, working with the NEC and the statement that elections didn’t meet international standards?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I think there are two things here. One is that, most importantly, the elections, despite the reported irregularities and other difficulties, took place without any major incident of violence. I think that’s important to note. The second is that, you’ve mentioned it yourself, the UN’s role was indeed to provide technical assistance. And the UN did so. It was for the National Election Commission actually to conduct the elections and that’s what they did. Anything beyond that is trying to divide things a little bit, and I don’t think that that’s the way that we would see it. We would see it as the UN providing electoral assistance, technical electoral assistance, and then it was for the National Election Commission to then conduct the elections.

Inner City Press: But how does the UN judge the efficacy of its technical assistance other than by the performance of the entities to which it provides technical assistance, you know what I mean? I am not actually trying to divide it. I am trying to say, if you’re in the business of helping the entity, what’s the response to the criticism of what they, are you saying that the NEC didn’t follow the advice of the UN or…?

Spokesperson: No, I said what I said. Matthew, I think one of the points here is that we’ve said all the way along that this is extremely complex and an extremely challenging exercise for all concerned. And what we’ve been providing is advice on fairly technical matters, including voter registration, and the counting, and tabulation and announcement of results, and training plans and materials, this kind of thing -- and helping to provide assistance, technical assistance for voter education. But ultimately, it is the National Election Commission that makes the decisions and then runs the process.

UN's photo of an anonymous hand voting in Darfur, fairness not shown

Inner City Press: Also on Sudan, I wanted to -- last week there were these reports of a ransom demand for the missing peacekeepers, and the group that’s listed as making the demand turns out to apparently be kind of a Government proxy; it’s really a rebel group. It was accused of being a pro-Government entity in Darfur. I’m wondering, since this time has gone by, what can you say about the status of these peacekeepers? And there is one South African media account saying that the UN has requested a media ban of any discussion of this hostage taking. Is that accurate or not accurate?

Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that our colleagues on the ground there are clearly very well aware of the fact that four of our peacekeepers, police officers as you pointed out, South African nationals, are missing. We are clearly in contact with the Government of Sudan and, as in all such cases, it’s the host Government that is the one that is responsible for helping to ensure that people being held or missing are returned safely.

Inner City Press: Okay. So, I mean, this idea that there is a media ban, is there a media ban?

Spokesperson: I have told you what I’ve told you, which is that the United Nations is working with the host Government; it’s for the host Government to do its utmost as in all such cases to help to ensure that people who work for the United Nations are returned.

But the kidnappers, it appears clear, are a government affiliated militia... Watch this site.

Footnote: US President Barack Obama was meeting Scott Gration on April 19 about the elections, but nothing has yet been announced. Watch this site.

* * *

UN Slammed for Bias by Darfur Rebels, Deferred Answer About Rebel UN Selected

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 14 -- Questions about the UN in Sudan focus not only on the dubious quality of electoral technical assistance, but also impartiality. Most recently the Justice and Equality Movement has criticized the UN's handpicking of representatives of internally displaced people, arguing that the selections are intended to make Omar Al Bashir look good.

   The UN feigns surprise, and then offers vague denials. From the April 14 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sudan, the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM] has raised concerns about the way in which UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] and the Joint Mediator [for Darfur], Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé, are selecting IDP representatives for the Doha process. They are saying, I guess according to them, that the selection is untransparent and is being done in a way that is pro-Government and slated to make things look better than they are in Darfur. I wanted to know… and you can read it; it is by Ahmed Hussein, the spokesman of JEM. What I am wondering is what is the UN, UNAMID, and Mr. Bassolé’s criteria for selecting IDP representatives? And I also wanted to just follow up of yesterday’s -- how do we get questions answered by Mr. Bassolé, including his recruitment of a seeming UN staff member to be a representative in the Doha process?

UN's Ban and Bassole, recruitment of IDP and "rebel" leaders not shown

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, Mr. Bassolé’s office has informed us of the following: Dr. Al-Tijani Al-Sissi [Ateem] is a former employee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). He has never been employed by any UN entity headed by the Joint Chief Mediator. He is taking part in the negotiations now in his personal capacity and no longer has any institutional links to the United Nations. The Mediator is aware that Dr. Tijani was a UN staff member and that he has resigned. That is what I have for you from Mr. Bassolé’s office.

[The Spokesperson later added that UNAMID has taken note of the criticism from JEM and believes that its approach to civil society selection is methodical and well thought out.]

Inner City Press: The reason it would be good to be in touch with that office is that ECA has said that in February of this year, that when he travelled to Doha, he was still an ECA staff member. He was invited by the Joint Mediator. So the question really is, in what capacity was he invited? Was he already invited as a participant in the talks reportedly representing the Fur people, or was he invited as a UN staff member? And if he was invited as a participant, how does it square with the UN staff rules, because he did not stop getting paid until March? Who paid for his travel?

Spokesperson: Matthew, you asked me that question after the briefing yesterday, and you also asked Nick Birnback the same question, and both of us have said we will find out and give you the information. If I had had it to give to you now, I would have given it to you. What I have given is what I have.

And so we'll wait for more. Watch this site.

 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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