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On Chad, UN in Denial, then Abortive French Frenzy in Council, Echoes of Mad Max and 2006 Bomb

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 3 -- As rebels moved in on Chadian president Idriss Deby, who took power in a coup d'etat 17 years ago, the UN in New York was first in denial, then in an abortive frenzy. At Friday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe if the UN was evacuating its personnel from the Chadian capital. Ms. Okabe said archly that she had previously read out a statement from Ban Ki-moon. But that statement said nothing about a pull-out from the capital. Later on Friday, following a closed door briefing for Police Contributing Countries, Inner City Press was told by a participant that hundreds of "Mad Max-like" vehicles were massed on Chad's border with Sudan, and that remaining UN staff in Chad were being given flak jackets and helmets. Upstairs, the UN spokesperson's office still refused to comment, claiming that they never speak of evacuations until everyone has left. But from Geneva, the UN's refugee agency was already speaking of pull-out.

            After the presidential palace was surrounded, the UN Spokesperson's office at 4:34 p.m. on Sunday e-mailed correspondents about an emergency Security Council meeting that began at 4:30. Sources told Inner City Press that France had called the meeting, eager for a statement backing up Deby, whom France supports. But four hours later, the Council meeting broke up without even a Presidential Statement coming out. Russia, it was said, wanted to run the draft by its capital. There were rumors of other "spoilers" on the Council. French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, at the stake out, told reporters that "there is no disagreement on any text. There is the needů to consult with capitals, which makes sense. We have a text, which is almost a consensus, and we hope to be there tomorrow morning."

Mad Max in Chad: they too hope to be there by tomorrow morning

            It should be remembered that a previous drive on N'Djamena by rebels in 2006 was stopped only by a bomb dropped by French jets, a bomb later characterized as "psychological." At the time, there was speculation about Chinese support for the rebels, and about oil connections.

            Sunday night, Amb. Ripert trumpeted that Deby is still in power, and that "more than 700 persons had been evacuated by the French army outside of N'Djamena. It includes all the personnel of the UN, except a small team, still on the ground" -- which is exactly what Inner City Press asked about on Friday, without answer.  We'll see.

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These reports are 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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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