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As UN Apologizes to Reuters, Both Refuse to Release Letter, Sudanese Ouster Closed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 15 -- Why would the UN Mission in Sudan, and Reuters, refuse to release or even quote from an ostensible apology from UNMIS for the summary exclusion of a Sudanese journalist working for Reuters from the UN Security Council's plane from Juba to Darfur?

As first reported by Inner City Press, as the Council delegation prepared to fly to El Fasher last week, UN Security determined there was one extra person on board. Rather than ascertain who was on the flight but not the manifest, a Sudanese journalist sitting directly behind Inner City Press was told to leave the plane.

When he asked a question, his backpack was thrown to the ground and he was told he would be “forcibly” removed. He left, with three other Sudanese journalists (employed by BBC and Xinhua) joining him in solidarity.

None of the Council Ambassadors said anything. (One Permanent Five member later in the trip expressed surprise to Inner City Press about the incident, and said it was being used to make the UN and Council look bad.)

At the Council's last press conference in Khartoum, it was rumored that an apology was delivered. Inner City Press waited in the front row, hand raised. But no apology was read out, and Inner City Press was not allowed to ask any questions.

(Afterward, a UN spokesperson told Inner City Press it had been decided to limit questions to “local” journalists, which included as the first question a non-Sudanese western wire service reporter resident in Khartoum - because potentially relevant, a Reuters reporter.)

Back in UN Headquarters, an UNMIS statement about the incident was put on the counter of Office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson (previously of Reuters, some note), which was met with skepticism by UN correspondents and was then no longer available.

Inner City Press asked UNMIS for a copy of the statement, and received in return this response by UNMIS spokesman Ashraf Eissa:

It was a pleasure meeting you in Sudan Last week. I hope your flight back to NY was not too taxing. Here is our response... UNMIS has received formal complaints re the incident from the two institutions with which four journalists who traveled with the SC group are affiliated. UNMIS has formally responded to these complaints.”

  Why not say what the “formal response” was? Security Council members, including a Permanent Five member whom Inner City Press spoke with about it, saw and then read out the ejection of the Sudanese media. What is UNMIS' response? Inner City Press asked again, and was told:

The response was given to two organizations who sent the letters. It is up to them to disclose it if they choose to do so.”

While three media organizations were reportedly involved, Inner City Press asked Reuters in New York for a copy or summary of UNMIS' letter. From London, 24 hours later, this was the response:

We have received a letter from the U.N. Mission in Sudan, however we will not be releasing this. But I would like to provide you with the following statement, which you are welcome to use:

'The U.N. Mission in Sudan has responded swiftly to our complaint, with an apology for the treatment of our staff. We appreciate the speed with which the matter was addressed and the apology we have received. We now consider the matter to be closed.'

This statement should be attributed to a 'spokesperson from Reuters'.”

Why would Reuters refuse to release or even quote from the ostensible apology from UNMIS? Did UNMIS ask Reuters to keep it confidential? The question is relevant in that UNMIS (and the wider UN) can grant or restrict access to the media which cover it.

UN Plane in Sudan, Sudanese journalists' exclusion and apology not shown (c) MRLee

  For this reason, the best practice would seem to be to release the letter. In fact, Reuters and other media have in the past demanded that the UN release copies of other letters described as apologies. Why not this one?

Footnotes:  As Inner City Press reported at the time, " The disparate treatment of the Sudanese journalists began earlier in the day, in the base of the UN Mission in Sudan. The reporters traveling with the Security Council including Inner City Press were told to disembark the bus for lunch. The Sudanese journalists were left onboard and only rejoined the group after the UNMIS sandwiches were eaten."

  So did the UNMIS letter also address this?  As to who was “extra” on the UN plane, there was a UN “advance team” member who earlier that day also tried to get on the press helicopter from Rejaf back to Juba, without being on the manifest and who did, in fact, get both to Juba and then to Darfur on the flight.

  Also, as many on the trip noticed, US Ambassador Susan Rice was accompanied by an entourage of four, while most other Ambassadors were told to bring, and in fact brought, no one else. Might there be another side deal or apology? Watch this site.

* * *

In Sudan, UNMIS Dodges on Panel and Exclusions from UN Jobs & UN Plane

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 14 -- Upon arriving in South Sudan a week ago, the UN Security Council was met by two separate demonstrations.

  The reported one was pro-secession, in the run up with the referendum scheduled for January 9. Also in the crowd, noted by more than one journalist but at the time not reported, were signs and chants of “workers rights are human rights.”

  The following day the Sudanese media on the UN flight from Juba to Darfur were thrown off the plane. This was first reported by Inner City Press, then by Sudanese publications and others.

  From the US early on October 13, Inner City Press directed three questions to the UNMIS spokesman in Khartoum. Twenty four hours later, responses were provided.

  But each was a model of evasion, explicitly not providing the basis information requested and in one case simply referring the question back to spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Martin Nesirky, to whom it has been re-directed four hours before his October 13 noon briefing.

Here are Inner City Press' three questions among with explanation, and UNMIS spokesman Ashraf Eissa's responses:

“Please provide by email asap what UNMIS put out about the incident with the Sudanese journalist(s) on the tarmac in Juba in the Security Council delegation's plane.”

The basis of this question was a journalist on the trip referring to a canned UNMIS statement put out in writing in the UN Spokesperson's Office in New York. It was no longer there when Inner City Press checked. So Inner City Press asked UNMIS. But after 24 hours, Eissa replied:

“UNMIS has received formal complaints re the incident from the two institutions with which four journalists who traveled with the SC group are affiliated. UNMIS has formally responded to these complaints.”

Why not say what the “formal response” was? Security Council members, including a Permanent Five member whom Inner City Press spoke with about it, saw and then read out the ejection of the Sudanese media. What is UNMIS' response? The Council meets on Thursday morning about its Sudan trip - will it exclude this aspect?

Inner City Press also asked:

“Please provide the response of UNMIS / the UN to the "The Southern Sudanese Drivers and Mechanics Association... cit[ing] UNDP, UNMIS and Kenya Commercial Bank among the organizations that continue to employ foreigners in positions that many unemployed indiginous should hold, rendering local drivers redundant.”

To this, Eissa responded:

“On employment. It is for other organisations to answer, but as far as UNMIS is concerned, All national staff jobs are exclusively for Sudanese nationals.”

While Inner City Press was told, while at Juba airport, that much (but not all) of the protest of the UN was directed UNDP, the UN Development Program, and not only at UNMIS, doesn't UNMIS have some role to speak for the UN system, at least in South Sudan?

For example, the UN system's Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative Georg Charpentier is, he seemed to say in El Fasher, an employee of UNDP. But still he purports to speak for the wider UN system.  (Inner City Press has posed these and other questions to UNDP).

  Cannot a formal spokesman like Eissa do the same?

UN's Menkerios, reclusive UNMIS chief, responsive info not shown

    UNMIS' stated mandate includes “promoting understanding of the peace process and the role of UNMIS by means of an effective public information campaign, targeted at all sectors of society... promoting the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, and the protection of human rights of all people of Sudan” -- including, presumably, those Sudanese protesting their exclusion from jobs of the UN system, including UNDP.

   While the Council and media were in Sudan, UNMIS one-year chief Haile Menkerios did not speak with the press, despite requests made to the UN. Media based in Sudan say Menkerios rarely provides responses to reporters. What about “promoting understanding of the peace process and the role of UNMIS by means of an effective public information campaign" ?

Inner City Press third questions, not related to what it saw first hand in South Sudan, was

“Please describe how Benjamin Mkapa, António Monteiro, Bhojraj Pokharel and their staff are being compensated or having their expenses paid.”

   To this factual and financial question, UNMIS' Eissa has responded:

“The SG's Panel is a totally independent panel from UNMIS. It reports directly to the Secretary-General in NY.”

The work of this panel in South Sudan and Abyei until October 15 is breathlessly reported on UNMIS' website, so Eissa's response seems too legalistic. Even though answers promised by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson in New York Martin Nesirky back on October 11 have still not been provided, Inner City Press is re-directing this and other questions to Nesirky. Watch this site.

* * *

In Darfur, Gambari Criticizes Nur & Inner City Press on Video, Transcription Here

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 8 -- Peacekeepers were sent to Darfur after reports of a brutal campaign by the government of Omar al Bashir against opponents of his regime and civilians perceived as supporting them.

Now top peacekeeper Ibrahim Gambari, as shown by documents leaked to and published by Inner City Press, is near to turning over five supporters of rebel Abdel Wahid Nur to that same Bashir regime, in exchange for a promise by Bashir to commute any death sentence his courts impose.

Several members of the UN Security Council, which ostensibly oversees Gambari's actions along with the African Union, expressed surprise to Inner City Press once they saw the leaked documents, consisting of a draft letter and “Additional Terms” from Gambari to Bashir's foreign minister Ali Karti.

On the UN plane Thursday to El Fasher from South Sudan, US Ambassador Susan Rice told Inner City Press that she intends to inquire into Gambari's offers about the Kalma Camp Five while in Darfur. This echoed a statement of intention previously issued by another Permanent Member of the Council.

After a closed door meeting with the visiting Security Council members, Gambari and two of his military officials, in uniform, came to see the Press. Gambari called Inner City Press' publication of his draft documents “reprehensible” and told Inner City Press to “be careful... lives are at stake.”  Transcription below.

  Yeah, a witness to Gambari's statements later said, the lives of the Kalma Camp Five are at risk if the UN turns them over to a strongman already indicted for genocide and war crimes. “Is this what the UN should be doing?”

Gambari, Lyall Grant, Susan Rice, Churkin- oversight not seen? (c) MRLee

  Gambari's statements to Inner City Press were caught on video and will soon be published online as such. For now, here is a transcription, prepared late Thursday night at a guest house in El Fasher outside of Gambari's UNAMID compound:

Inner City Press asked Ibrahim Gambari, “What's happen with the Kalma Camp Five that you are considering turning over to the government... or that documents indicate you are considering turning over?”

Gambari answered: “Here is the situation. We have these five sheikhs who have been accused of some very serious offenses. We have no means as UNAMID to try them... Down the line if ever there was a death sentence, the President has the prerogative of mercy. All has been discussed confidentially. I want to say how reprehensible it was that somebody leaked the confidential communication of the government of Sudan...endangering the lives of those in the camps. The recipient of such a leak I think should also think twice about what they do considering that they are endangering the lives.. We've lost 27 peacekeepers between UNAMID and UNMIS, I mean AMIS.”

Inner City Press asked about Abdel Wahid Nur saying that if the Five are turned over, it will make UNAMID complicit in genocide, and that his group would not cooperate with the UN any more.

Gambari responded, “you quote words Abdel Wahid was supposed to have said... I met Khalil Ibrahim yesterday, asked how about how someone said JEM wants Gambari to resign for Tarabat Market. [He said he] ever said that, never authorized this... I want to hear from Abdel Wahid. I've been to Paris twice, I went to Tripoli...What happened in New York I condemn it. Matthew I have known you a long time, you should be careful... You are a recipient of a leaked document... Journalism also is a responsibility. I regard you as a friend, I used to, I regard you as a friend, I am admitting that.”

Of Abdel Wahid Nur, Gambari said: “He wants all issues resolved almost before he comes.”

“Matthew, I'm very angry with you , what are we supposed to do, keep people indefinitely?”

Inner City Press said, “Several Security Council members, when they saw the leaked documents, said they were not aware that you or UNAMID were in such discussions, and some expressed worry. How much is this Mission overseen by the Security Council?”

Gambari said “Ask them. Ask the S-G. I am responsible to two masters. You have the AU and you have the UN. The unity of the international community is key to finding a solution.”

Inner City Press said, as Gambari backed out the door toward his vehicle, “Transparency you can always say is dangerous, but I think it's probably a good thing.”

“No,” Gambari said. “Believe me, lives are at stake.”

Or maybe jobs, a witness to Gambari's statements later said, adding that the lives of the Kalma Camp Five are at risk if the UN turns them over to a strongman already indicted for genocide and war crimes. Among other lives put at risk, without oversight, transparency or explanation. “Is this what the UN should be doing?” Watch this site.

Footnote: it's worth noting that even before Inner City Press obtained and published Gambari's draft letter to Sudan's Ali Karti, Gambari had already expressed anger at Inner City Press' publication of other leaked documents concerning his time as UN envoy to Myanmar.

  That time, before the UN's September 24 high level meeting on Sudan, Gambari didn't argue about lives being at risk. He claimed the documents were “old” (2009) and not newsworthy. “Just leave me alone,” he said, having in the past declined to respond to questions sentto his UN e-mail address by Inner City Press. Now, the claim that lives are put at risk. Is it just opposition to transparency?

Watch this site, follow on Twitter @InnerCityPress.

 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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