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France's Araud Mocks as "Detail" DPKO 11 Hr Communication Delay in Akobo

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 20 -- After the UN belatedly confirmed the death of two peacekeepers in Akobo, South Sudan, 11 hours after India's Permanent Representative to the UN Asoke Mukerji told Inner City Press about them, Inner City Press asked the Security Council's president for December, Gerard Araud, about it.

   The UN only confirming the deaths after "aerial" observation, on top of the UN's statement the day before that it had fallen out of contact with its Akobo base, raises serious questions about the quality of UN Peacekeeping's communications.

   This in turn could put both peacekeepers and the civilians they are supposed to protect at risk.

  But Araud cut into the question and called it "a detail... when or not when." He said, "ask somebody," adding "I'm in substantial questions, not details." Video here, from Minute 19:47.

  Ask who -- Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row atop UN Peacekeeping? Particularly because France seized control of UN Peacekeeping (in exchange for not vetoing Kofi Annan as Secretary General), France is more responsible for failures in DPKO communications than other members.

  But in fact, on the question of communications, it was US Ambassador Susan Rice who raised the need for DPKO improvements, in an answer to Inner City Press in August 2010, video here --

Inner City Press: On DRC, what does the U.S. think that MONUSCO could do in terms of communicating with civilians? People talked about satellite phones, flares, what are the ideas you have?

Ambassador Rice: Focused on Congo. We did discuss, and I myself raised in the form of brainstorming, some possible ideas for how to enhance communication between remote villages where there's no cell phone coverage and you know, a company forwarding operating bases of MONUSCO. And I don't want to put any of them out as considered proposals, but certainly radios and satellite phones are among the tools out there that could conceivably be utilized. How feasible they are, whether the radio coverage in dense bush is feasible, at what distance, whether the costs of cell phone-or satellite phone-usage are prohibited, I don't have the answers to those. But those are the kinds of ideas certainly that members of the Council are starting to generate. We expect further insights and ideas from MONUSCO and we're going to come back to this and insist that there be both a greater understanding than I frankly feel exists in the Council as to the extent and the limitations of MONUSCO's ability to communicate with outlying villages and then some very specific steps that can be taken to enhance that communication.

   Has it happened? What exactly were the communications by the UN with its Akobo base, communications that the Indian Battalion was able to have?

  The Security Council president for December, Gerard Araud, not only refused to answer this question - he called it a mere detail, saying he is "in substantial questions."

  And if flaws in his / France's Department of Peacekeeping Operations lead to more failures and deaths - then what? Still a detail?

   Araud's last such answer, also to Inner City Press but on the danger to peacekeepers in Mali, the French Mission simply omitted from its purported transcription of Araud's stakeout. And this time?

Background: on December 19, Indian Ambassador Mukerji asked Inner City Press if there had been any accountability for the previous killing of Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan, and called for that in this case.

  The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, whose Herve Ladsous' spokesperson stood to the side while Mukerji spoke to the press, never issued anything publicly on December 19. One of his or Ladsous' favored scribes re-reported what Mukerji had said, along with a notation from DPKO to take the information with caution.

   Eleven hours later, the UN Mission in South Sudan via its just started Twitter account said its helicopter flights had confirmed the death of two Indian Battalion soldiers, and as Mukerji had told the Press, the wounding of another.

  The question arises: how could the Indian Mission in New York get this information 11 hours before DPKO? The UN said its communication with its Akobo base were down. Obviously, India's communications weren't down. What is wrong with Ladsous' DPKO, and the UN more generally?

  Mukerji reminded Inner City Press of the ruling of the previous UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien that with the Force Intervention Brigade on the Democratic Republic of the Congo - and now with peacekeepers in Mali shooting at civilians and co-housing with France's Serval force -- UN peacekeepers are becoming combatants, parties to armed conflict.

  Murkerji said that troop contributing countries should be told this. This would seem to be the job of Ladsous (who says he "has a policy" of not answering Press questions) and of the President of the Security Council.

  This month that is France's Gerard Araud, who left a December 19 Peacekeeping seminar before the moment of silence, tweeted by Inner City Press, for the Indian peacekeepers. Most recently he refused to answer specific questions about intermingling with Serval making UN peacekeepers combatants, calling it micro-management and chiding the question.

  Then the French Mission to the UN deleted the question and Araud's answer from its "transcript" of Araud's stakeout.

We are still endeavoring to find out more about the killings in South Sudan, and for accountability. So far, without any assistance or transparency from Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping. Watch this site.

Update: Forty minutes after publication of the above, DPKO through the UN Spokesperson's Office belated e-mailed out that "aerial assessment" confirmed death of two peacekeepers. What -- UN has no communications like India does? Watch this site.

Here's from the UK Mission's trancript:

Inner City Press: Do you think there's a communication problem with the base in Akobo, because you were in the meeting yesterday where the Indian Ambassador already knew the Peacekeepers had been killed, and then the UN said it could only confirm it with aerial surveillance? Is there some radio issue or how does the UN communicate with its base?

Amb Lyall Grant: Not that I am aware of but obviously all of these questions will come out in the briefing this morning.


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