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South Sudan Has Pilots for 2 of 10 Copters, UN Says, Disarming Assurances by VP

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 15 -- Following the deadly violence in Pibor and elsewhere in Jonglei State, the UN Mission in South Sudan explained its slow reaction by saying that it had thought its Russian helicopters would fly, and that it was and is reasonable to rely for the protection of civilians on the government and SPLA.

  Thursday in front of the Security Council Inner City Press asked UNMISS chief Hilde Johnson about reports that the government did not use its ten Mi-17 helicopters and that the ethnic make up of the SPLA led to a failure to protect the Murle. Video here, from Minute 9:35.

  Johnson said the allegation about the non-use of helicopter was "incorrect" -- then admitted that Sout Sudan has only two crews of two pilots so the flights to Pibor were "limited."

   She did not address the allegation that the SPLA left the Murle unprotected, which is not dissimilar to the allegation that in Southern Kordofan the UN's Egyptian peacekeepers did not move to stop forces aligned with Sudan's National Congress Party. Khartoum has its misdeeds, which we cover extensively. But this doesn't mean the SPLA is perfect.

  Now their move is for disarming the tribes, which some call forced disarmament. Uganda's Museveni government did it with the Karamojong and that worked out badly, as Inner City Press was told last week by Uganda's Betty Bigombe.

   Inner City Press asked US Ambassador Susan Rice about the South Sudan disarmament plan and what safeguards are in place. She replied, "I can't give you the South Sudan briefing on the disarmament plan [but there are] steps and layers." She said it will be "voluntary and not forcible," that she met with Vice President Machar who "gave assurances."

  Inner City Press asked Hilde Johnson if the UN has any view of the disarmament being led by former rebel Peter Gadet, given his track record.

  Johnson said "who is in charge of it is less relevant to us in the UN, as long as policy implemented." Somehow this sounded similar to UN officials up to Ban Ki-moon and the head of peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, having no comment on an alleged war criminal, Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva, becoming a UN Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations. ""who is in charge of it is less relevant to us in the UN" - really?

  Inner City Press had asked Ladsous a simple question when he left the Security Council, a question that a Security Council member had asked Inner City Press: are the Bangladeshi helicopters, temporary replacements for the departed Russians, in place?

   Ladsous did not slow or answer, in contrast to the two previously heads of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno (now Kofi Annan's first deputy on Syria) and Alain Le Roy. It seems that DPKO has hit a new low with Ladsous.

   On the question of the Russian helicopters, when Hilde Johnson briefed by video she told Inner City Press that while the Russian said they would not fly in mid-November 2011, that "subsequently" she was told that they would fly.

   Inner City Press has repeatedly asked her to name the date she was told this, as Russian diplomats tell Inner City Press it is not true. Johnson said she would have to check and get back with the information; it has yet to happen.

  Likewise, the UN has yet to state how many people it believes were killed in Pibor. They disagreed with the assessment of the County Commissioner -- the same one now being relied on for disarmament -- but never provided their own estimate, while going public with casualty figures in places the UN has much less presence on the ground.

  As previously said, it may be that Hilde Johnson is so close with, and such a supporter of, the South Sudan government and SPLA that she is not able to perform the oversight functions that the UN should. If the disarmament goes badly, would Hilde Johnson say it? Would the US and Susan Rice? We'll see.

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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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