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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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UN Lacks Aircraft for Darfur But Won't Say Why, Troop Numbers Murky, Dictators Not So Bad

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 8 -- To highlight the need for military aircraft for the upcoming peacekeeping force in Darfur, the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno on Monday gave the press a list of 16 troop contributing countries and three "shortfalls in critical areas," two involving helicopters and one "medium heavy transportation company." Through questioning it became clear that a problem in gaining a commitment for these aircraft is that Sudan has been given implicit veto power over the identity and nationality of the pilots. But what country is going to give its helicopters for someone else to fly them?

            Inner City Press asked Guehenno about the Sudanese Ambassador's claim that his Department turned down Egypt's office of 3000 troops. Egypt will be a "very significant participant" in the force, Guehenno answered. But at the level of 3000 troops? "Less than three thousand," Guehenno said. "But still a significant number." But how many? Why play hide the ball?

            Similarly, Inner City Press asked Guehenno how it was that the UN reviewed allegations of human rights violations by Rwandan general Karenzi Karake. Once the allegations were made, the UN said it invited human rights groups and other to submit information. "No member state came up and substantiated such allegations," Guehenno said. But did the UN consider information only from member states? "Of course we listened," Guehenno said. "But we can only act on the basis of evidence."

            Guehenno was asked about the International Criminal Court indictments, including of Sudanese humanitarian minister Harun. Guehenno answered that there should be "no impunity," but that the "peacekeeping mission is distinct."

            Some observers conclude that, in order to get the al Bashir government's support for the hybrid force, the UN is going too far with its accommodations. On Monday, Guehenno declined to confirm reports of the al Bashir government burning the town of Haskanita in response to last week's attack on African Union peacekeepers there. Other sources have put the death toll in the town at 105. The UN, despite reportedly being now in control of the town, has not come out with any figure.

Airplane over Darfur - but not the needed helicopters

News analysis: The UN's accommodation of Sudan's al Bashir government is mirrored by its seeming covering-up for the Than Shwe regime in Myanmar. Over the weekend, the Times of London reported that Burmese authorities went in search of the UN's computer hard-drives, to identify activists to arrest. But UNDP's Charles Petrie said they were only asked for satellite phone licenses, and Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson on Monday said that even those weren't asked for. As for the Times of London's report that UN staff in Burma were deleting files in fear of the government seizing them, when Inner City Press asked, the spokesperson said, "I cannot confirm that information this morning." Everything's fine, the UN says in its way, in Burma and in The Sudan. There's diplomacy and then there's.... cover-up. When is the line crossed? The Darfur mission will be a test.

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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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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540