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UN Council's 5 Days in Sudan in 6000 Words: Darfur Forgotten, $15 Returned

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 10 -- When the UN Security Council's 15 Ambassadors and the Press went to Sudan for four days, what was accomplished?

  Mission co-leader Mark Lyall Grant of the UK, his colleague Susan Rice of the US at his side, said the Council got commitments from the Omar al Bashir government about the vote in South Sudan.

  Meanwhile the majority of people Inner City Press has spoken with predict a delayed or canceled referendum or violence after one. And on first hand experience, the Council accomplished little to nothing about Darfur.

  But perhaps the best way is to give some blow by blow. It started in Uganda, or before that in Nairobi. The Ambassadors flew from New York on two British Airways flights. In a harbinger of things to come, there was no one there to greet the BA flight.

Nairobi: Sneaking through the Dar Gate

  As the delegation “snuck through,” as one assistant put it, a gate for another flight to Dar al Salaam, Inner City Press spoke with China's Li Baodong, asking him about Sweden's attack on Beijing's record on human rights.

  That wasn't smart, Li Baodong said softly. He tied it to the European Union's recently deferred request for special speaking rights in the UN General Assembly. Now member states won't know if the EU would use a top speaking position to make attacks like that, he said.
  One wonders if other EU members have pushed back at Sweden even more than China, Egypt, Vietnam and Cuba did, at the end of the GA debate.

   Even the sneaking through was not effective: security guards arrived and asked the delegation to go through a metal detector. Inner City Press did, followed by Susan Rice who scowled but did not complain. (Spoiler alert -- this will be contrasted to the end of the trip in Khartoum.)

  A minibus arrived and whisked the Ambassadors to a VIP lounge by the tarmac. In what would be a trend, there was no wireless Internet to upload a story.

   As Russia's Vitaly Churkin and Li Baodong spoke with the Press, the UN's media liaison came back and summoned reporters around him. There's been a request, he said, that no one report on the Ambassadors doing nothing. His request, he said, was directed at Inner City Press.

  But what if they ARE doing nothing? What if nothing is accomplished?

  The request was amended: don't report that an Ambassador was “picking their nose.” Hopefully there will be better news than that, Inner City Press responded. Hopefully. And note that even this round up upon conclusion of the trip is nose-pick free. Even though...

Ambassadors of UK, Russia, US & Brazil w/ Gambari, Kalma & Sora not shown, (c) MRLee

  One trusts it is ok to report that on this Council trip, France sent it new Deputy Permanent Representative. Japan's new Perm Rep was there. Other countries beyond France not sending their Perm Reps or Number 1 Ambassadors were Austria, Gabon and Nigeria.

Uganda: Maoist Museveni, the UN's Graveyard of Toyotas

A white UN plane pulled up to the VIP lounge. It was barely big enough -- hence the last minute doubts about which reporters could come, also triggered by one Permanent Five member of the Council's question about which Press would be included, and why anyone from the Spokesperson's Office had to come -- but once filled it took off for Uganda.

There, at Entebbe, there was for the first time a greeting party. A few soldiers marched around; one soldier, Inner City Press found, was sleeping on the ground behind the rolled up red carpet. There was a metal detector to go through to get out of the airport -- a first. Three busses were waiting.

Part of UN delegation arriving in Entebbe, Oct 5-6, 2010, Bashir not shown (c) MRLee

While waiting, it emerged that this Entebbe strip was the very one where Israeli commandos raided the hijacked plane in 1978. The next year Idi Amin was belatedly chased from the country -- something to be brought up by President Yoweri Museveni -- into his long Saudi exile.

  There followed a nearly one hour bus ride to and past Kampala, to the Speke Resort on the shores of Lake Victoria. In a high ceilinged lobby that at last had Internet, the Ambassadors and staffers and press checked into their rooms. For the first time the number of staff could be counted.

Mark Lyall Grant, leading the Darfur leg and co-leading in Khartoum, brought a UK staffer.

Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda, leading the Kampala leg, had a staffer from New York.

Susan Rice brought two policy staffers -- Inner City Press was asked to leave them unnamed -- and two close protection guards.

  This was widely remarked on then and -- spoiler alert -- would become more so when local journalists were removed from the UN plane in Juba, under UN threat of force.

  The Speke Resort's rooms were plush, complete with bed nets and air conditioner on the wall. Perhaps writing and reading this was the point: Inner City Press was told that the government insisted that the UN delegation stay in this hotel, even though they would just wake up in the morning and drive back out to Entebbe then leave.

There was a breakfast buffet with watermelon juice -- Mexico's Claude Heller remarked on that, “sandia” -- and fruit and eggs and sausage. In a second hand account, Vitaly Churkin sipped a cup of coffee and opined, “That is good coffee. Strong. But good.” On the drive back to Entebbe, a billboard ad for tires said “There is no power without control.” The Museveni meeting loomed.

But first there was a tour of the UN's new regional service center in Entebbe. A surprise appearance by Paul Buades, formerly the head of UN Procurement in New York whom Inner City Press exposed as providing exclusive last minute information to a French company but not other bidders. “If you don't publish my e-mail,” Buades told Inner City Press at the time, “you and I can be friends.”

Now Buades was in fact friendly, shaking hands first with Inner City Press, offering a tour of the base. Is there Internet, asked Inner City Press? Apparently not: only UN intranet, no wifi. When the Ambassadors arrived, Buades showed them Power Point slides about the economics of the base.

Inner City Press was told, you can stay for the Q &A, but it must be off the record. So the questions, such as they were, will not be reported here. Later Buades complained that some of his answers were. Such is UN-transparency.

Uganda I: The UN's Graveyard of Toyotas

  Once the Power Point was over, the tour of base began. There were fields full of Toyotas, all painted UN white. We are installing new locks, Buades and the base's Deputy Yury Cherep told the Ambassadors. Then we will drive them to East Congo, or down the river to Kinshasa. Several Ambassadors questions these logistics' wisdom.

  Further in the base, there was a transit camp for peacekeepers, complete with volleyball court and mess hall for 100, which Buades showed the Ambassador. Although the sign on the door said UNMIS, the Mission in South Sudan, there was a door for French lessons. Never too early, it seems, to prepare for another UN job.

Yury Cherep to Amb Rice, Rugunda, Churkin, Toyotas not shown (c) MRLee

  It's time to go, one of the handlers said. Museveni is waiting. Buades too the group to the barbed wire perimeter of the base, pointed out at a wet land on which cranes and other wildlife grazed. The government gave it, he said, but it would cost a lot to bring it up to the level of the existing base.

  Ambassador Rugunda, defending his country's gift, said there was not reason to use landfill to raise the level of the wet land. While Buades might have meant bringing it up to the STANDARD of the base, Mark Lyall Grant quipped that the cranes would leave once it was all filled with cement.

  A short bus ride brought the delegation to a huge mansion on a hill. Through a metal detector and down a long hall way, a big room had been prepared for Yoweri Museveni's remarks to the traveling press. But it would be nearly a two hour wait. Repeated requests for Internet were met first with the response, by a guard, that “only the Big Man has the Internet,” then a comment that the jacks along the wall might be live.

  But the press corps only wire was back outside in the van. Inner City Press went out, stopped by a half a dozen guards, and retrieved the wire from the van. Back through the metal detector and in. But first one jack, then the following six, had no Internet.

The eighth jack was the charm -- the Internet was live. Inner City Press uploaded the Entebbe story, sent Tweets that a dysfunctional cell phone disallowed. Now came guards, then Museveni. It was time to lock and load.

  Museveni sat on a throne-like chair, flanked by Ruhakana Rugunda. He said he'd take five questions. The first was about his offer for Somalia of 20,000 troops -- Inner City Press has told the figure he used at the closed door meeting in New York was 40,000 but who's counting -- and Museveni answered that it was about solidarity. We are revolutionaries, he said. Just an Tanzania sent us troops to put an end to Idi Amin.

  Inner City Press was called on, and asked about reports of the Ugandan troops in Mogadishu firing shells into civilian areas like markets, and calls for investigations. We are against shelling, Museveni said. He went on to quote Mao, that a people's army should not take even a needle and thread from the people without paying for it. Sewing with al Shabab?

  When the press conference was over, as the TV crews packed up, Inner City Press used the eighth jack to upload a quick Uganda piece. Then it was off and back to the airport, through the metal detectors again. One of the two interpreters -- he will reappear -- explained that the earphones in his metal suitcase were to help him do his job. He and Inner City Press were the last onto the plane, which they took off for Juba.

Juba: Happy Crowds and Chinese Hotels

  The landscape out the window was like a felt pool table broken up by the occasional mountain or outcropping. It was hard to imagine tanks rolling across such a landscape, mortars fired, death from the sky. At the Juba airport, a happy crowd of people held signs welcoming the Council. “Separation = the only way for peace in Sudan” said one of the signs, reminiscent of one about Kosovo hung in a storefront in The Bronx.

  Discombobulated by the crowds and taking pictures, Inner City Press forgot its carry-on suitcase on the plane and asked to go back and get it. No, the UNMIS handler said, we'll get left behind. A UN worker in a construction vest held the suitcase up to the window. There is no time, said the UNMIS handler. Driver, let's go.

  The first stop was was Conference Hall of the Government of South Sudan. Inner City Press had been there in 2008 but now it was fancier, like a classroom in a law school. A tall security officer in wrap-around shades at first stopped the Press from entering but then relented. Only to take photos, Inner City Press was told.

  At the front of the room sat Salva Kiir in his big hat. He had recently been quoted that he would vote for independence, triggering claims from Khartoum that he violated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Inner City Press asked Susan Rice about this. Her answer, however, was only on background and so cannot be included.

The photo op over, the UNMIS handler -- a Harvard graduate, he'd let you know -- took the press corps to their lodgings. The UN list included two spots, the Grand hotel and one called New York, New York. But the press was taken to the newer “Beijing Juba.”

Chinese young women stood behind the counter, handing out passwords to use the Internet. “There is beer,” said one of the reporters. There was also wireless, if only in the lobby. The room was just containers, complete with bed nets and cold water. The electrical outlets worked with Chinese plugs. In context it was heaven.

Susan Rice had let on that George Clooney was in town -- you'll have competition, she said, he's with Ann Curry -- and she and Clooney and others would be going to a reception that night. The Press was not invited. (An Inner City Press source who was invited said that Clooney joked with a tall South Sudanese that he wouldn't take a photo with him because it would make him look short.)

  A Chinese police trainer whom Inner City Press met advised not to walk into the darkness in search of food. It is pitch black, she said. There's a single street light.

   But if not necessity, hunger is the mother of invention. But the neon light of a metal palm tree like one by Manhattan's 23rd Street and East River, Inner City Press and a colleague tried a restaurant compound down the road.

  It was closed, the owner said, suggesting a place off in the distance “by the cell phone tower, past the gas station.” The roadside was truly pitch black. A sign, legible by cell phone light, advised on behalf of UNEP and UK DFID to stop polluting Juba.

Past the cell phone tower, the Basilica restaurant was open. The waitresses were Eritrean; the menus offered “chicken broast and chips” with the price in Sudanese pounds. The large screen TV above the bar played European soccer. After a couple Tuskers and some spicy if skinny chicken, the road was not so dark. The dollar to Sudanese pound exchange rate was something of a rip-off, but worth it.

Back at Beijing Juba, with a final Nile Beer from the cavernous bar in the back, Inner City Press conducted interviews about the referendum. The North will try to steal it, a man with markings on his forehead said with a smile. I should know, he added, I was educated in Khartoum.

Suddenly Li Baodong appeared, with a group of countrymen. He greeted Inner City Press. You're staying here? He nodded. It was, subsequent reporting reveals, further back in the compound, near the Chinese consulate. China is hedging its bets, appears to be the take away, or take out if you will.

Juba I: Pep Rally by the Nile

The next morning began with a helicopter trip. Out of the copter's portholes, the land grew even lusher, following the Nile. There was a red dirt clearing, in which the copter landed. Men in riot gear snapped to attention. A UN staffer in a sharp looking suit said he was the personal adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs, and that these police were being trained in the rule of law.

The Ambassadors arrived in another chopper, and the crowd went on to greet them. Under a tent the Minister of Interior affairs praised Susan Rice by name, and said it was time for independence. He accused Khartoum of dropping ammunition to “cattle rustlers” and the Lord's Resistance Army. Susan Rice kept smiling.

Susan Rice and SSudan minister, status neutral not shown (c) MRLee

 Later she would give her own speech, to a tentful of recruits.

  “Are you ready to protect your country?” Yes! “Are you ready for independence?” Yes! The question were by South Sudan government officials, flanked by Susan Rice. Another diplomat, on that basis, would late call it a “political rally” and deem Susan Rice's organization of the Juba leg as inappropriate.

  Back in the helicopter on Rejaf's red dirt airstrip, a tall UN staffer in khakis with, other said, a Russian accent announced he would be joining the Press copter. No you won't, said the young flight attendant or crew member. I was here with the advance team, the man insisted. He went to another of the copters and got in.

Juba II: No Wow, the Ouster of Reporters

Back at the Juba airstrip, a fixed wing plane was waiting. The next stop on the trip was to be Wow, or Wau, to visit a Catholic hospital. Inner City Press sat with Mexico's Ambassador Claude Heller, speaking of Kosovo. But the plane, after revving up, turned its engines off. The Spanish crew, from Swift Air, said the plane would not be flying.

On a previous Security Council trip to Africa in 2008, Swift Air declined to fly from Goma after a UN Security officer fired his pistol inside the plane to show that it was empty.

The delegation got back into busses. The Ambassadors were taken to a mess hall in the “Russian base” of UNMIS. Outside, Russian men did pull up in an outdoor gym, stared at their visitors. Internet was offered but then quickly taken back. “You will leave this office,” Inner City Press was told. “This is the base commander, that's why he can order you to leave.”

But to where? The press corp, now including four Sudanese journalists, got back into the van. After a short drive, the UNMIS handler said that only the traveling press should get off. A room of computers with UN intranet awaited, along with room temperature chicken sandwiches, watermelon slices in Cellophane.

Only after these sandwiches were finished were the Sudanese journalists let it. This seemed strange, and it got stranger still. Once everyone filed into the larger plane head for El Fasher in Darfur, it emerged that there was an extra passenger. Rather than take roll call to figure out who it was, a UN Security official told one of the Sudanese journalists, you have to go. Why? If you don't go, we'll have to remove you forcibly.

With this, the UN Security official grabbed the Sudanese journalist's backpack and threw it on the floor. The journalist stood up, and asked his three Sudanese colleagues to join him. All four got their equipment and got off the plane. Not a single Ambassador said anything.

Darfur I: Down Down ICC, Gambari and his trailers

Out the window the landscape got more and more arid, with as it emerged some government assault. At the El Fasher airport, a dozen or so women chanted “Down, Down ICC! Down, down USA!”

It's all staged, several reporters remarked. But outside at the gate, a much larger protest waited. Khartoum controls the airport, Inner City Press was told. They allowed the women in, and are allowing this. Inner City Press took pictures.

The convoy drove to the “Super Camp” base of the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, UNAMID. There was a welcoming ceremony, ritual marching around a triangle red carpet. Ibrahim Gambari, now the head of UNAMID, waved to Inner City Press. He would be briefing the Council, but only after a photo op.

Inside the “Crimson Lights” restaurant -- run by a UN contractor -- the Ambassadors look their seats, across from UNAMID officials. In the corner, Mark Lyall Grant and Susan rice and Ruhakana Rugunda bickered with a person later identified as UNAMID's Security Chief Reddy. Finally they took their seats. After a few photos, Inner City Press was asked to leave.

But UNAMID has Internet, even wireless, in an air conditioned trailer. Finally the stories could be uploaded; Susan Rice and the pep rally, the ejection of the journalists. The latter was quickly picked up by local media; it became a touch stone of the trip.

There was a Security Council dinner, but the press' tables were brought outside. There was cold greasy chicken, cold fries, and a surprisingly good lentil soup. All work must stop at 10 pm, Inner City Press was told. So back to the Internet Cafe.

Gambari and his force commander came in. Gambari approached Inner City Press and complained about the recent publication of leaked documents showing Gambari close to turning over five supporters of Fur rebel leaderrrrrr Abdel Wahid Nur, in exchange for a promise they will not be executed by Omar al Bashir, already indicted by the International Criminal Court.

You've put lives at risk by pushing those documents,” Gambari said with some anger. Transciption here, YouTube forthcoming.

But you're putting the lives of the Kalma Five at risk, and setting a precedent that other Strong men will act on.

The Q & A was over. There is a a curfew, on four wheel drive vehicles after 7 pm, and all cars and pedestrians after 10. It's for security reasons, Inner City Press was told. And lo and behold, a Hungarian UN staffer was kidnapped just that day.

  UNAMID's spokesman gave a hint but not more. His boss Kamal Saiki, who Inner City Press met in the Congo in 2008, later gave exclusive information to one wire service, the briefed the rest of the press the following morning.

While the Ambassadors stayed the VIP area -- called Guantanamo Bay -- of the Super Camp, the press corps was drive off base with an armed escort to a guesthouse the UN rents from a family who built it two years ago for just this purpose. No one would say how much it cost, or how this building and price was chosen over any other.

Inside there was bugs, fridges stocked with water, no towels in the bathroom. There was no Internet, but there was air conditioning and ceiling “Pak Fans” made in, where else, Pakistan.

Darfur II: Of Super Camp and Wali, Food and Abu Shouk

El Fasher in the morning has chickens in the streets, the sun rising pink over mud walled compounds. A UN van took reporters back to Super Camp, then on a tour. The UN is building new subdivisions -- Gambari's real estate dreams -- and his its own oil tanks and junkyards. Still, many UNAMID staff are just depressed.

The busses stopped, and the Ambassadors but not press changed from a bus into a series of “hardened” four wheel drive vehicles. The convoy, which had now grown to over 40 vehicles, headed out of Super Camp to the compound of the Wali of North Darfur. There a small crowd of protesters chanted against the ICC outside. Inside things had gotten more plush since 2008, with a huge horseshoe table, speakers and better air conditioning.

The Wali spouted statistics about how crime in Darfur is down. He sounded like Rudy Giuliani of New York, quipped Inner City Press. Lyall Grant responded with statistics from another time frame. Then the Press was told to leave.

Outside the protest had grown. There was dozen outside the meeting room, chanting a series of slogans. One man chanted “Down, Down USA” but was quickly corrected -- it's Down, Down ICC. He switched over.

Outside the gate there were hundreds chanting, including women and children. Inner City Press walked the gauntlet filming. Finally the handlers took all press to the bus where they waited.

Next the expanded convoy inched across wasteland toward an IDP camp: Abu Shouk. The other camp the UN wanted to visit was not brought up.

Outside Abu Shouk, the Council met with IDPs. Lyall Grant's opening remarks, recorded by Inner City Press, were nearly over when Susan Rice passed him a note. Minutes later, Lyall Grant asked the Press to leave. Outside in the heat, reporters took photos of camp children. What do you eat? one asked them. “What do you want to be went you grow up?”

Just like you, said one of the kids. They followed as reporters were led by on the bus. They watched as reporters scarfed down cold hamburgers and hot dogs. One of the UN interpreters - the one with silver suitcase - approached the press bus. The door was opened.

Headline,” he said. “Journalists stuff their faces while starving children look on.”

And then he closed the door. One reporter, chastened, handed his half eaten hamburger out the window. Another vented about the interpreter's hypocrisy. The mood as somehow changed.

There followed another snaking of the forty vehicle convoy, into the real Au Shouk. UN Peacekeepers with rocket propelled grenades led the way. “You have five minutes,” the UN handler said. “The government of Sudan might try to take your camera and arrest you. They did it to a Japanese reporter recently. Why has the UN said nothing?

During the five minutes, Inner City Press witnessed Vitaly Churkin asking camp residents how long they had been there, and whether they were hungry. A woman explained that the UN World Food Program had cut the rations given in half.

More and more reporters were rebelling now. This remained so when the Press were taken to the Saudi hospital the Council went to see, but were not allowed inside.

Outside in the heat Gambari appeared in a 4 by 4 with guards. He told Inner City Press he would try to give press access to a UN reception that night in Khartoum. He would be flying there.

Inner City Press asked, by way of final confirmation, do you have a Lear Jet?

Gambari nodded. He has to get around, he said. Then he got back in his 4 by 4, which on the way out of the hospital compound drove through a patch of planted melons, crushing at least three of them, which Inner City Press photographed.

Questions have been raised about hunger and the cutting of food rations in the Abu Shouk camp, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier, came onto the bus.

  He said there wasn't really hunger in Abu Shouk nor, after Inner City Press asked, in Jebel Marra or the Kalma Camp. The latter, it emerged from documents Charpentier left behind, that the UN has been to Eastern Jebel Marra only once in the last months, and the Kalma camp is being dismantled.

  The reporting on Kalma Camp, Charpentier told Inner City Press, was “over exaggerated.” And the problem in Jebel Marra, he not not food but blankets for the cold. How does the UN know, if they are not allowed there?

From the hospital the convoy went straight to the airport, for what was called the final stakeout. Mark Lyall Grant did it alone. Inner City Press asked what guidance the Council had given to Gambari about his plan to turn over the Kalma Five to the Bashir government, and what it would mean for the freedom of movement of UNAMID peacekeepers, to areas like Jebal Marra.

Lyall Grant said this was not in the Council's terms of reference for the trip, that it was up to Mr. Gambari. Inner City Press, when there was a lull, tried to ask a follow up. “Let's give the last question to somebody else.” Let's. There followed a long winded question in Arabic from Sudanese government media.

On the plane, speaking on off the record, a “Council diplomat” said something about “ad hominen” reviews of Gambari.

To another journalist, a P-5 Ambassador questioned the visit to the hospital. He asked, what are we supposed to do about that?

Khartoum I: Free Jazz and Graffiti, Photo Sprays and Protests, Present Tense

After an hour of looking down at the desert, during which time Brazil's Permanent Representative talks happily with a seeming Braziling UN staffer on her “one week after every six” vacation, Khartoum approaches, with high rises and wide avenues. In the airport, there is greeting party, and at the exit a protest of the ICC. The convoy speeds down a wide avenue, past the Panda restaurant then U-turns to the hotel. There is Internet, two hours worth.

  Despite Gambari's promise, the press is not invited to the reception held that night. In search of food, Inner City Press and two local journalists head to Papa Costa's in downtown Khartoum. They have steak, Inner City Press a hamour fished out of the Red Sea. A jazz quartet plays, including a soon to leave UN system spokesman on electric bass. “It's not like this every night in Khartoum,” one of the local journalists says wistfully. Hey, it's not like this every night ANYWHERE.

On the drive back to the hotel, passing through a traffic circle, the local journalists says “there used to be Al Qaeda graffiti here, which the government left up for something like two years. But they recently had it painted over.” A rapprochement with the US?

The next day, the Council's last one in Sudan, began at 9, or was supposed to. Among those assembled at 8:50 with cameras and tripod is one of the Sudanese journalists thrown off the UN plane in Juba. He praises the “online article” and says he's getting calls from all over. He doesn't want anything, though, from the UN system.

Finally at 9:30 they say the “photo spray” is ready. It's not much of a spray: some members of the South Sudan Referendum Commission sit on one side of the room, with UNMIS chief Haile Menkerios. The Ambassadors sit on the other side of the horseshoe. It's hard to get both sides into single photo.

That was a waste of time,” one of the videographers says. He mentions he's heard there'll be a protest, he thinks in front of UNMIS half a mile away. Inner City Press prepares to walk, but get a ride.

UNMIS is in a former military hospital now surrounded by barbed wire. They take away Inner City Press' UN pass to go inside, where there are rooms without electricity. This is never explained. Anyway there is no demonstration here. Word is it's downtown. Back in the four by four through traffic.

   There are bands of men in white turbans holding banners and signs. Some are in English: Colonials are trying to draw lines on Africa again. “Ocampo, why isn't the US a member of the ICC?”

(Of this last, one Council diplomat said, “I agree with that.” The response was that a sign also questions Israel's non membership. Without revealing more, this comment was NOT made by the Perm Rep of Lebanon, who was also on the trip.)

Inner City Press goes into the crowd to take pictures and video.

Khartoum demo Oct 9, UN Security Council not shown, (c) MRLee

  The crowd is generally friendly, holding out their banners to be filmed. There is loud Sudanese jazz pumping from speakers; there is a live band on the band stand that soon there will be speakers. But an actually meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already begun. Inner City Press speeds there, arriving half way through Foreign Minister Ali Karti's speech.

Khartoum II: Karti's Hard Line, What Does It All Comes To?

  Karti took a hard line on Darfur, saying the government would accept no preconditions for negotiations -- this while the government is blasting away daily at areas perceived as controlled by the Abdel Wahid Nur faction of the SLA, for example. After Karti, Lyall Grant read out his speech, once again reiterating the terms of reference for the Council's nearly completed trip. Then the press was asked to leave.

  In the van, the acting UNMIS public information officer spoke of a lunch his replacement had invited the press to. But the focus was on filing stories, particularly of the demonstration. The van did drive the press corps back to the hotel and its wireless, somehow avoiding the expanding area of the demonstration. There were two hours before, it was now said, two of the Ambassadors would speak to the press, some on the record and some on background.

The difficulty, of course, is how to use the (bland) on the record quotes without thereby identifying who said what on background. Suffice it to say, one of the Ambassadors answered Inner City Press' question about freedom of movement for UNAMID by confirming that the Sudanese authorities and UNAMID conveniently by consensus blocked the Council from visiting the Shangil Tobaya IDP camp, saying it was “not controlled by the government.”

  But aren't those precisely the type of people the Council should be hearing from?

  The other Ambassador responded with platitudes to the question of Gambari's planned turn over of Nur supporters to the government, saying that Gambari had told this Ambassador and others -- seemingly not in a session with the full Council -- that he would only effectuate the transfer in conformance with international humanitarian law and the UN's principles, whatever those are (after Srebrinica and Rwanda, it is hard to be sure).

Even these “background” remarks were embargoed until 5:30, when the final final press conference was to begin. One wondered if this applied to what France's new Deputy Permanent Representative, also in the room, said on the side to “his” wire service, Agence France Presse.

  Inner City Press wrote its Shangil Tobaya story and got ready. Camera crews set up. The outgoing UNMIS public information office said anyone who wanted to ask questions should come to the microphone.

   Wanting to ask about the destruction of villages and the dismantling of Kalma Camp in Darfur among other issues, Inner City Press rushed over. Second in line at the microphone and first with hand raised for questions, Inner City Press was nevertheless not called on. The UN's own media was given a question. All questions taken regarding the South Sudan referendum: not a single question on Darfur. So what was accomplished on the trip?

At the end of the press conference, Inner City Press began to ask, no questions on Darfur? The liaison from the spokesperson's office in New York, who has earlier collected a $15 exit tax from each member of the delegation, shook his head, later stating that a decision had been made to take questions only or mostly from the local press -- perhaps in ill-conceived payback for the UN having thrown all the Sudanese journalists off the UN plane in Juba. But the journalists called on were not the journalists excluded: at least one, in facts, work for the UN.

The delegation was rushed to the airport , where the remaining Ambassadors stood around in the VIP lounge. Turkey's Permanent Representative Apakan at the hotel said goodbye, that he was going back to Turkey. Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico marveled at “the complexity,” said he was a “junior diplomat” at the UN when the General Assembly voted to replace Taiwan with Mainland China.

The Wali of Khartoum arrived with two body guards. Sudan's Permanent Representative and his Deputy were there. The former was screamed at by Susan Rice. The part Inner City Press heard, first, was about the $15. The Sudanese Perm Rep said to Inner City Press, by way of farewell, that the money would be refunded.

Later another reporter told Inner City Press that the fight had initially been about Sudan's request that Susan Rice's staffers and perhaps Ms. Rice herself go through the metal detector. There is no basis for objecting regarding the staffers. As to Ambassadors, another P-5 Perm Rep said he had no objection to the metal detectors, “there are terrorists, you know.” This was seen as a dig at Susan Rice and the US.

The plane took off, avoiding an incoming sandstorm, and landed in Dubai. In the airport Inner City Press asked two P-5 Perm Reps about the destruction of Sora village and dismantling of Kalma Camp.

  The first hadn't heard about the destruction in any of the Council's meetings. The second said it was up to UNAMID to confirm the village's destruction and whether it happened by air. And if it did? What would the Council do?

  The Ambassadors took off, with one of the Security officials and Inner City Press left behind in Dubai. The Permanent Representative of Bosnia graciously tried to help the (female) Security official, but to no avail. The extra airport time was used to write this exit report.

  Beyond the return of the $15 dollars, what was accomplished, particularly on Darfur? And what questions should be asked in New York? Let us know, and watch this site.

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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