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At UN, Malcorra Says Lacking Russian Copters Lethal Assets Couldn't Move in S. Sudan

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, January 16 -- As 6000 Lou Nuer fighters advanced on Pibor in South Sudan, the UN Mission was unable to transport "lethal assets to dissuade" the attack due to Russian helicopters not flying, UN Under Secretary General Susana Malcorra told Inner City Press in an interview on Monday.

  After UN spokesman had dodged questions for nearly a week about what some in the Security Council call "negligence" by the UN, Malcorra on Monday detailed that "around December 15" the Russians told the UN they were withdrawing four of their eight helicopters from the UN Mission in South Sudan.

    She said that after the Russian helicopters were attacked -- according to the Russians, on September 16 and 20, October 24 and November 11 -- they had said they would not fly.

   The resulting failure to get UN "lethal assets" to Pibor to protect civilians, which several UN sources have called scandalous, now seems to be belatedly acknowledged and may be used as a trigger for reform.

   As Inner City Press stated in its exclusive report on January 11, when the UN belated gave Russia a draft Letter of Assist for continued use of the helicopters, the UN proposed putting machine gun mounts on the doors of the helicopters. For that reason, the Russians say, the Letter of Assist wasn't signed.

   Inner City Press on Monday asked Malcorra if given what the UN knew were mounting tensions in Jonglei State in South Sudan, adding a new element to the draft Letter of Assist for the Russian helicopters had been wise.

   Malcorra said, "I will not answer that question. Yes we did ask, that was one of the elements of discussion. Clearly we had a Letter of Assist that called for--" she stopped. "I won't get into the Letter of Assist."

   This has been the UN's line since Inner City Press began raising the question: that the UN will not discuss negotiations, and therefore will not answer basic questions such as when (and if) the Bangladeshi helicopters from the MONUSCO mission in DR Congo, or the Ethiopian helicopters from UNISFA in Abyei, could serve South Sudan.

   Security Council sources have told Inner City Press about what they call "inter-mission arrangements," saying that "it is not so easy between Sudan and South Sudan" and that the Bangladeshis are asking for a longer term commitment, up to a year, to establish some forward operating base.

  Click here for Inner City Press' stories in this series: first, second and third. The detailed failure to get UN "lethal assets" to Pibor to protect civilians now seems to be belatedly acknowledged and may be used as a trigger for reform - at least greater flexibility in inter-mission agreements in the future.

   Another Troop Contributing Country on the Security Council told Inner City Press that the UN Secretariat, specifically the Department of Field Support under Malcorra, is increasing engaged in "ad hocism, paperwork is not on time... DFS was to be underneath DPKO - that is gone."

   In fairness, Malcorra is more open than many of Ban Ki-moon's other USGs, being willing to answer at least one of Inner City Press' questions Monday about the UN's supposed "zero tolerance" policy on prosecuting sexual abuse -- she acknowledged "have we been able to close that loop to the end? No we haven't."

(c) UN Photo
GA President & Malcorra, relations with member states never simple

Her narrative, offered on the record on South Sudan, was that

"we had these events in November: they were shot, and the build up in tensions in Jonglei. So, during November there was frantic activity...

"We found ourselves without the Russian helicopters. So we started to use commercial helicopters. There was a plan to have a big reconciliation meeting in mid December. So when I was in South Sudan end of November, beginning of December, the SRSG was on the matter, to make sure that by mid Dec helicopters were back flying.

"Close to the 15th of December, we got a confirm by Russia they would withdraw four of the eight. We kept working with Russia - the host government, the Secretary General... we are still working on it."

  Malcorra said, on the record, that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon communicated to Russia, apologies for the attacks.

   Inner City Press asked Malcorra if the tensions between Russia and Ban, after Ban said that NATO "fully complied with Resolution 1973" in Libya, played any role in Ban being unable to ensure their helicopter service in South Sudan, given the UN's position that such helicopters fly even before the Letters of Assist are signed.

   She said, "I couldn't answer that, Matthew."

    The question remains: should the UN Secretariat have moved faster, or spoken more loudly outside the loop between Juba and Moscow, when it was foreseeable it would not be able to move "lethal assets" even as tensions mounted in Jonglei state? We'll have more on this.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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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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