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Fear & Loathing in Darfur, Of UN's Curfew & Low Morale, Gambari VIP Culture

By Matthew Russell Lee

EL FASHER, October 8 -- Even as spruced up Thursday for the visit of the UN Security Council, there was a feeling of fear and boredom and low morale at the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur. After the Council's delegation was met by protests at the gate of the El Fasher airport, its convoy rushed into UNAMID's compound, surrounded by concertina wire and earthen barriers against suicide car or truck bombs.

  At and even before the Council's first meeting, limiting the program and visits was the topic, even though Internally Displaced People in a nearby IDP camp had been quoted as waiting to be visited by the Council.

  Inside the UNAMID compound, when Inner City Press sought to leave the air conditioned space into which the media were shepherded, a UNAMID minder said “You are really not supposed to be wandering around. [Wherever you go] I'll go with you.”

  Along the path to the restrooms, men lounged on the sidewalk, and offered greetings to Inner City Press. Later, without the UNAMID minder, Inner City Press was approached by and spoke with a range of people inside UNAMID's so called Super Camp, which military contractor Lockheed Martin was given a sole source contract to build, unsuccessfully.

  UNAMID staff described a curfew imposed on them: none of the required four wheel drive vehicles can be used after 7 pm, and no two wheel drive vehicles or walking outside the camp after 10 pm.

  Even staff whose job would seem to require leaving the Super Camp told Inner City Press they rarely if ever leave. Their highlight seems to be going on vacation.

  After six weeks, these staff are given five days vacation and two travel days, seven consecutive working days in total. Those interviewed said they largely go to Europe, only to return against to what one called an unhealthy house arrest.

  Isn't there a gym or work out facility? There is, was the response, but it is not a good one and is poisoned by what is called UNAMID's “VIP culture.” It was noted that UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari flies about in a Lear Jet, unlike his counterpart in South Sudan.

UNAMID 4x4, curfew, low morale & Gambari's Lear Jet not shown, (c) MRLee

  This virus seemed to spread to the Security Council's dinner Thursday night. While initially two tables for journalists had been set up in their room, before it began the tables were moved outside. Even though two UNAMID staff later asked the Press if offense had been taken, the VIP message resonated.

  Earlier on Thursday, when the UN plane from Juba was found to have one too many people aboard, a Sudanese journalist who had been permitted for the flight and to report from Darfur was ordered by UN Security to get off the plane or be “forcibly” removed.

   After his backpack was thrown to the floor, the three other Sudanese journalists left with him in solidarity. Still the Council has had nothing to say about what's viewed as disparate treatment or even, to some, discrimination.

What is being accomplished by the Super Camp bound UNAMID? Inner City Press had wanted to ask UNAMID chief Gambari about detailed reports it has received about UNAMID peacekeepers refusing to leave their bases to protect civilians, saying they must await “permission.”

Inner City Press earlier obtained and published an internal UNAMID document to this effect, show inaction after the murder of at least 47 people in the Tarabat Market:

At about 1800hrs on 02 Sep 2010, UNAMID Police Advisors received unconfirmed information from locals in Tawilla IDP camp that unidentified armed men attacked Tabarat Market near Maral village about 28kms southwest of Tawilla, where about 30 people were killed and more than 70 others were injured.

The information was received by the PF Force Commander Major Aimable Rukondo from relatives of victims in Tawilla IDP camp. At about 2030hrs, people from the Tawilla IDP camp gathered near the gate of Tawilla UNAMID Base requesting for assistance to evacuate their relatives who were in Tabarat market. The PF Commander together with the Acting Team Site Commander advised the relatives that prior approval from El Fasher Headquarters is needed before proceeding to the place and with that they were advised to be back to Tawilla Base tomorrow morning for possible medical evacuation movement to Tabarat market once it has been approved by the higher Headquarters.”

  Gambari has yet to explain this document. But on Thursday night, Gambari approached Inner City Press, not about this but another exclusive publication of leaked documents: Gambari's drafts to Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti, showing Gambari on the verge of turning over five supporters of rebel Abdel Wahid Nur to the regime of Omar al Bashir, already indicted for genocide and war crimes. These documents have led Abdel Wahid Nur to say that if the turn over occurs, UNAMID will have become complicit in genocide.

After Gambari's outburst -- first reported here -- Inner City Press was told that there had been a “security incident” regarding which no further description would be provided to Inner City Press, since “you'll probably get the scoop.” A UNAMID staff member was kidnapped. In a guest house surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled -- virtual house arrest -- Inner City Press sat down under an overhead Pak Fan and set about transcribing Gambari's remarks. Watch this site.

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In Darfur, Gambari Attacks Publication of His Kalma Turnover Drafts, Says Press Risks

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 7 -- Hours after the UN Security Council and accompanying media including Inner City Press arrived Thursday at the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, the Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari came to visit the Press.

   Inner City Press asked Gambari about the turnover of five supporters of Abdel Wahid Nur documents obtained and published by Inner City Press show he is considering.

  Gambari responded angrily that the leaking and then publication of the documents puts people at risk. Inner City Press responded that others believe that the turnover would put people at risk, not only the five individual's turned over, who even as to execution would be relying on a promise by Omar al Bashir, already indicted for genocide - but also for UNAMID's own peacekeepers.

   As quoted by Radio Dabanga, Abdel Wahid Nur has said that if the turnover occurs, he and his movement will view UNAMID as complicit with the genocide Bashir has been indicted for.

  Inner City Press asked Gambari about what Abdel Wahid Nur told Radio Dabanga. Gambari responded that he does not believe quotes he reads -- Dabanga is, of course, a radio -- and gave as his example a recent talk with Khalil Ibrahim of JEM in which, Gambari said, Ibrahim said JEM had never called for Gambari to resign. Self-serving?

  Gambari said he was criticizing the Press “as a friend.” But to attack a publication for publishing a leak about the possible turnover of five people to one accused of genocide and war crimes seems strange.

  As Inner City Press said as Gambari left, several Security Council members had no idea Gambari was engaged in such negotiations. One Permanent Representative of a Permanent Five Council member told Inner City Press that, after checking with “the capital,” the issue would be raised on this trip. Susan Rice of the US said it would be looked into during the visit.

  “I have two masters,” he said, the African Union as well as the UN and its Security Council. So does Gambari confer with neither? Or with the African Union more than the UN?

  In the room in which Gambari meet with the Council Ambassadors, two hagiographic photographs are hung on the wall: the UN's Ban Ki-moon, and the AU's Jean Ping.

  By having two masters, does Gambari answer only to himself?

  Or as some say, to a resident of Khartoum, which Gambari reaches by Lear Jet?

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Pro Bashir Protest Greets UN Council in Darfur, IDP Camp Visits in Play

By Matthew Russell Lee

DARFUR, October 7 -- Chants against the US and the International Criminal Court greeted the UN Security Council's 15 Ambassadors when they arrived in Darfur on Thursday. Inside the airport, a group of women chanted their devotion to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes and genocide.

At the airport gate, a larger crowd including children for a time blocked the Council's convoy, which ultimately broken through and rushed behind the barbed wire perimeter of the Super Camp of the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, UNAMID.

 Once inside, the Ambassadors were whisked in to meet with Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari and other UNAMID officials. Inner City Press went in too, for the promised photo opportunity at the beginning of the session.

  But in the corner, Gambari and Security Director Reddy were in intense conversation with US Ambassador Susan Rice, accompanied by her UK and Uganda counterparts Mark Lyall Grant and Ruhakana Rugunda.

Out window of UNSC bus, children waving fists, bridging not shown (c) MRLee

  Rather than freedom of movement for UN Peacekeepers and protection of civilians, the discussion seemed to revolve around the next days program of work: either a close-by internally displaced persons camp and then a Saudi-funded hospital, or an IDP camp some 20 kilometers from Al Fasher. Inner City Press, upon request, is not publishing the name of either camp. The impact of the protest that greeted the Council at the airport is not yet known.

Footnote: inside the UNAMID Super Camp, the Press was led to a welcome Internet cafe. But in seeking to leave the air conditioned container, Inner City Press was told that “you're really not supposed to wander around... I'll go with you.” Essentially, a minder system.

  Nevertheless UNAMID has its beauty: a V shape of birds in the sky, lit up periodically by lightening. After the call to prayer, people dropped to their knees in a larger, carpeted container. A UNAMID staffer said he rarely leaves the base. That's what the rebels say.

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.

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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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