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In Algiers Bombing Fall-Out, Veness Resigns, But Confidential Report Points Further

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- More than six months after the deadly bombing of UN premises in Algiers, the UN on Tuesday released a redacted version of its follow-up report, and announced the resignation of its head of security, David Veness. The initial report is now online here, analyzed here and below. Even the redacted report issued by the UN raises questions of accountability.  It states for example "the Designated Official was neither forceful nor persistent with the Algerian authorities to insist on the security measures requested of the Government." (Page 25).  This Designated Officer was, in fact, an official of the UN Development Program, Marc de Bernis.  As is so often the case with UNDP, de Bernis not only didn't press the host country government in any way -- he allowed himself and the UN system safety issues to be marginalized. The UN-release report states

"As noted in the preliminary DSS report on the 11 December 2007 attack, all contact by the UN Designated Official for Security (DO) and the Security Adviser (SA) with the national security authorities occurred through the Director General for Protocol (DGP) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). This restricted contact with security agencies was not limited to the UN; diplomatic missions in Algiers also conduct their security relations through the DGP/MFA. This is the practice in a number of other countries."

  Having access to the preliminary DSS report, we find in paragraph 7 that there was an exception, for "large embassies." Why didn't the UN, with multiple agencies represented in Algeria, get for itself as much access as large embassies of its member states?

Bombed UN premises in Algiers, accountability still not shown

  The preliminary DSS report lays out the history:

The security level was set at phase IV in march 1994 (paragraph 3). The security level was lowered to phase III in October 1996 (paragraph 4).  Paragraph 4 continues to say that by September 2004:

"The Algerian authorities meanwhile expressed strong disapproval of the fact that Phase III was still in effect since it was seen as an 'unfair treatment which gave the country an undeserved bad image abroad to the extent that it kept out foreign investment.'  As a result of the recommendations in the report, the Secretary-General [Kofi Annan] approved the downgrading of the security phase from level III to III, in Algiers."

  Paragraph 5 says that in April 2006, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria wrote to Kofi Annan "expressing severe displeasure that significant parts of the country outside of Algiers were still at phase II.  He wanted the whole country to be phase I.
  Paragraph 5 also says that in May 2006:

"At the request of the Secretary-General [Kofi Annan], an inter-agency security assessment mission traveled to Algeria to re-evaluate the security phases. The mission found that the security situation in the country had "substantially improved" and that the 'government security forces were more than capable and willing to provide security for UN staff and operations."  Consequently, the recommendation was made for a reduction from Phase II to Phase I of the Security plan for other areas of the country besides Algiers.  THIS RECOMMENDATION WAS APPROVED BY THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON 11 AUGUST 2006 and remained in effect up to and until the bombing on 11 December 2007.  IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THIS ASSESSMENT WAS MADE BEFORE THE GSPC WAS ALIGNED WITH AL QAEDA."

   In May 2007, the media branch of AQIM issued a direct threat against the UN.  This was only nine months after Kofi Annan had downgraded the security phase for Algeria to its lowest phase, Phase I, which he had done following a letter of complaint from the Algerian foreign minister.

   Only five months later, in October 2007, the Security Risk Assessment that was developed by the late security advisor Babacar Ndiaye characterized the risks from terrorist threats as "high", the potential impact as "severe" and the probability of attack as "likely."

  Paragraph 18 says that this document (the SRA) was "approved by the DO" [Marc de Bernis]. So why wasn't the security phase increased above phase I when this information came to light?

  Why was the phase downgraded to phase II in the first place?  Was it because of the letter of complaint from the Algerian foreign minister?

   Now, some seven months later, the UN is belatedly getting around to "establishing accountability." The resignation of David Veness, first reported by the Washington Times, is not enough. Another major problem is that UNDP should not be given any security responsibilities, given its unquestioning position vis a vis host governments.

 To be continued.

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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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