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Amid Border War, UN in South Sudan Sees Nothing, Unclear Where Ban Calls

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 11 -- As tensions mount between Khartoum and Juba, the UN Mission in South Sudan despite the public money it spends shows itself unwilling or unable to verify any facts, much less save lives. Earlier this year it reacted slowly to mass killing in Jonglei State and has yet to release its report on casualties. Now it will not confirm aerial bombing, or more recent incursions.

  After a Security Council meeting Wednesday morning, US Ambassador Susan Rice as April's Council President told the press that "the Secretary-General is also seeking to engage senior authorities in Khartoum."

  Inner City Press' questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman proved fruitless (see below). Nor would Sudan's Permanent Representative, in a surreal stakeout interview with two journalists late on Wednesday, say to whom if anyone Ban Ki-moon had called.

  There were two experts' meetings in the Concil Wednesday afternoon: on a draft Sudan statement, and on a US thematic topic called "illicit flows." Inner City Press was covering both when Sudan's Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman arrived.

  He told Inner City Press that what Rice said at the stakeout and what the US presented in the statement it drafted were inconsistent; he called for UN Television to set its cameras up.

This took some 20 minutes, during which time much was learned about Sudanese diplomacy ranging from Bangledesh to the Central African Republic. A US diplomat, not Rice, took Sudan's Permanent Representative into the Council's quiet room to talk. Slowly the UNTV camera was assembled.

  When the stakeout began, only one other journalist had come, to ask how far into Sudan the South Sudanese had driven. Eighty kilometers was the answer. Inner City Press asked about rebels targeting Sudan's other oil wells, and to whom Ban Ki-moon had called.

  The responses all jibes strangely with arguments about Syria: who is the victim, who should be condemned, who sets the deadline. Sudan has threatened to retaliate, "deep inside South Sudan." This does not sound good.

From the UN's April 11 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: the Secretary-General has made these contacts, but the Mission in South Sudan what insights does it have? Does it play any role? Does it have any sense of who is doing what and who breached the border or does it not look at that?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: I am trying to unpack the many layers of your question.

Question: Sure. But he has a peacekeeping mission there, and there is a war, and there is now a war, so I am wondering, the peacekeeping mission, does it have anything to say on, did South Sudan go across the border into [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: Well, first of all, as I mentioned, Matthew, Mr. Mulet briefed the Council to provide an update on what we understand the position to be at the moment. The Mission, as you point out, is in South Sudan and its remit is South Sudan, therefore, it does not have a presence on the other side of the border. The other point is that, what is really important here is that there should be a de-escalation by both parties, and that is what the Secretary-General has been emphasizing in his phone calls and in his discussions, as I mentioned, in Washington, and that’s, I think, understandable. And those contacts will continue when the Secretary-General returns to New York. He is on his way back right now.

Inner City Press: the reason I asked this is because I asked over at the Security Council if Mr. Mulet would do a stakeout and sort of provide some factual stuff from DPKO, and I was told no, that the… the place for that was here, so that’s why I am asking you.

Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, I have given you an update based on the information we have at this point. You should also understand that it goes well beyond the remit of the UN Mission in South Sudan, clearly because it involves two countries and the Mission does not have a presence or a mandate in Sudan proper. So therefore, the Secretary-General has been reaching out to both parties; others, of course, are involved in this, including regional leaders, including Prime Minister Meles, as I have just said, the Secretary-General just spoke to him. This is, obviously, a very serious matter, and it is something that the Secretary-General is actively involved in trying to de-escalate. That’s the focus.

Some focus. Watch this site.

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