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On S. Sudan, UN's Johnson Says Russians Flew After November, No Dates

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 23 -- In opening remarks Monday on the bloodshed in South Sudan's Jonglei state, the UN Hilde Johnson did not mention that the UN Mission had knowingly been without military helicopters in the run up to the attack on Pibor.

  But as Inner City Press first reported on January 11, after a similarly helicopter-free briefing by Johnson's deputy Lise Grande, the UN knew since mid November that the Russian helicopters in South Sudan would no longer fly.

  After the January 11 story, the head of the UN's Department of Field Support Susana Malcorra acknowledged to Inner City Press that the lack of military helicopters made it impossible to bring to Pibor "lethal assets to dissuade" the attacks.

  On January 18, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech saying he "begged" for helicopters, but hasn't yet said when, or even to whom he begged.

  On Monday, Inner City Press three times asked Hilde Johnson to name the date on which she knew that the Russian helicopters would not fly. Video here, from Minute 11:17.

First, Johnson said that after the Russians notified the UN of this in mid November, after assurances by South Sudan it would comply with the Status of Forces Agreement, the Russian flew "to some team sites again." She continued that "subsequently" the Russians told the UN they would not fly.

  Inner City Press asked again: when was this "subsequently" - when did the Russians re-tell the UN that they would not fly? In her second answer, Johnson simply did not answer this question, but rather said that APCs got to Pibor "through the mud" -- again without stating the timing.

(c) UN Photo
Hilde Johnson counts wounded, but count of dead still not released

  Allowed a final round of questions, Inner City Press for a third time asked for the date(s) -- Johnson now said "we'll have to get back to you, I don't have that in front of me" -- and asked more generally for Johnson's response to the critique, by more than one member state, that she is viewed as so close to and laudatory of the South Sudan government that she cannot perform the "other" UN envoy roles of critique the government's free press and human rights record, or even is here in no hurry to report casualty figures, as the UN does in other countries where it has less presence, because the South Sudan government also bears some responsibily. Video here, from Minute 29:49.

  Johnson replied, "I can assure [I act] in accordance with my mandate" and denied "all alleged political or other affiliation." She said she tells the government and in grave cases the Security Council about violations.

  But other UN envoy also publicly critique governments, including host governments. How can the full truth of what the UN did and did not do, and when, in the run up to the bloodshed in Pibor finally be known? Watch this site.

Footnote: after Ms. Johnson finished, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the UN - AU envoy in Darfar Ibrahim Gambari socializing with Sudan president Omar al Bashir at the Rotana Hotel in Khartoum. (Click here for that January 20 story from Inner City Press.)

  While Bashir's indictment by the International Criminal Court is the main basis of the questioning, some say that as Gambari is to Bashir, Johnson is even more so to Kiir. Is either appropriate, in the UN system?

  Whatever the answer to that, transparency about these helicopters is the least that should be expected.

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

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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