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In S. Sudan, UNICEF Condemns Use of Its Backpacks by SPLA, Ladsous Raised?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 3, updated -- While UN official Herve Ladsous met with Salva Kiir in South Sudan, Kiir's forces appeared photographed near Bor marching with UNICEF (and UK) backpacks on. Inner City Press at the UN noon briefing in New York asked the UN about Ladsous' visit (see below) and asked UNICEF about the photograph, receiving this comment in reply from UNICEF spokesperson Kate Donovan at 3 pm:

"We are extremely concerned to see this flagrant abuse of UNICEF education materials by combatants. A large amount of UNICEF supplies - along with humanitarian supplies from other organizations as well as stores from schools and hospitals - have been looted in many locations during the conflict in South Sudan. Such thefts display a complete disregard for the principle of protection of civilians and respect for humanitarian work. We urge the parties involved to take appropriate action against the theft and use of supplies that are intended for the welfare of civilians - especially children."

  In the interim, UNICEF's Sarah Crowe told Agence France-Presse in Juba the same thing.  It's appreciated - but who will be conveying this to the Salva Kiir government?

Update: Inner City Press put this question to UNICEF, and Kate Donovan replied, "We are following up with the Government to pursue identification of the soldiers concerned and that they be held accountable for this breach of international humanitarian law.  We urge all sides in the conflict to respect the principles of protection of civilians."

   One would think that UNMISS, which supports the SPLA, could and should play a role, including in identifying the soldiers / units concerned. And that might help solve whether the "UK" backpack is UK Aid, or not.

    The South Sudan trip of UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous is over, the UN announced on February 3, saying he met with Salva Kiir but no mention of anyone in the opposition.

  Inner City Press asked how, then, the UN could viewed as impartial much less a monitor of the at-best shaky cessation of hostilities agreement, including now with Kiir's forces photographed with UNICEF backpacks. (An eagle eyed reader of Inner City Press spotted a "UK backpack," so that's being inquired into as well.)

  Ladsous meeting only with Kiir seems tone-deaf, particularly amid reports that Kiir's SPLA -- perhaps with UNICEF equipment -- destroyed Machar's birthplace of Leer.

   In South Sudan a spokesperson for Riek Machar, Lul Ruai Koang, has said that the army of Salva Kiir has taken and destroyed Leer in Unity State, in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa.

  Leer is Machar's birthplace. Koang said "the latest destruction of Leer town... has no strategic, operational or tactical importance," and that Kiir derived vengeful "satisfaction" from it being burned down.

   Doctors Without Borders MSF has said, "There are no longer any patients or staff left at Leer hospital."  It seems, however, that the UN has said nothing. The head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous during his visit is set to meet only "with senior [Kiir] Government officials." This is hardly impartial. The line is: leering at the re-taking of Leer?

  Previously, James Gatdet Dak, has accused the Ugandan troops of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Addis Ababa and attacking the Machar forces around Bor in Jonglei state.

  On January 31 Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq to state any UN view on the Ugandan troops continued presence in South Sudan and any UN role in monitoring the cessation of hostilities agreement.

  Haq said that UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, in South Sudan on February 2, will meet with "senior Government officials."

   Well, if that's all he meets with, what role COULD his UN Peacekeeping have in impartial monitoring? It's like in the DRC: his UN Peacekeeping takes sides, based at least there on history. From the UN transcript, video here and embedded below:

Inner City Press: South Sudan, first, I wanted to know whether there’s any UN view of Riek Machar saying he stands to be charged with treason and that will set back all the, what was agreed in Addis. And I want to know, does the UN think that at this point charging or threatening to charge Mr. Machar with treason is productive? And also whether the UN agrees with Norway, which is one of this troika group, saying that the Ugandan… they believe at this point that the Ugandan troops that assisted the SPLA in retaking cities should leave. And finally, is there a UN role in monitoring of what was agreed in Addis? I know that you said Mr. Ladsous will be there and will be discussing… I didn’t hear the phrasing… is there a UN role in monitoring what was agreed to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Yes, in terms of what I just read, yes. He’ll meet with senior Government officials to discuss the implementation of the recently signed ceasefire agreement and that will be one of his tasks. We’ll provide updates when we get them of his trip. Regarding the monitoring mechanism, I believe earlier this week we stressed the importance of having a monitoring mechanism, and I said at that point that the UN Mission in South Sudan — UNMISS —would try to assist as needed for the work of the monitors. But this is a separate monitoring mechanism that’s being set up.

Inner City Press: So will he meet with the other side, say, Mr. Machar, or the other side that reached the agreement in Addis?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll try to provide you with some details of his meetings once we get them. As I said just now, I just had the announcement of his trip. But we’ll try to do that. Certainly, he’s trying to meet with all parties and we hope that the parties continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement and work with each other and we would urge them to refrain from any unhelpful actions.

   We'll see what updates the UN and UN Peacekeeping actually give.

  UN envoy in Juba Hilde Johnson of Norway, closely aligned with Kiir, has during the crisis been substantially lower profile than her deputy Tony Lanzer. On January 31 Inner City Press asked if the UN (and Hilde Johnson) share the view of Norway, that Uganda's troops which helped dislodge Machar's from Bor and Bentiu should now leave South Sudan. Haq did not answer this either.

  So what is the UN doing in South Sudan? For example, what has the UN Development Program accomplished? A close observer opines, as to constitutional review, that UNDP "funded the process including the commission yet the process was never inclusive. Its members were mainly individuals from the ruling party. They supported the same constitution that gave powers to the President and they reported its completion as a success."  Sounds like the UN...

  Right before the South Sudan cessation of hostilities (and cessation of "hostile media") deal was signed, Inner City Press asked Haq about the deal, and allegations against the UNMISS mission. Video here and embedded below.

  The signed deal, we note, has as one of three IGAD Special Envoys the Sudanese General Mohamed Ahmed Dabi, whose role in Syria in 2011 for the Arab League gave rise to much criticism. Look at him now.

 Inner City Press asked UN Security Council president Jordan's Senior Deputy Permanent Representative if the UN would have any role under the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism. He wasn't aware of you. His summary said the members of the Security Council "condemned the accusations" against UNMISS. One wondered: what if they're true?

   In his noon briefing response, Haq said the UN was "monitoring" the talks. He refused to comment on the allegations, calling them statements by South Sudanese officials. But what about the underlying facts? Did the UN return government vehicles? Did a UN staff member send text messages for rebels?

Haq would not answer.  He referred back to his comments of two days before -- which said the government minister of information was banned from entering an UNMISS camp not only for arms, but also cameras. Could the cessation of hostile media policy be in place?

   That the UN banned from one of its bases a South Sudan minister citing his armed guards is one thing. But the UN has also cited that the minister's party had cameras. What's wrong with that? Especially when the UN publishes its own photographs of those inside the camps?

  Inner City Press on January 21 asked deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq to confirm that the Minister was blocked. Haq confirmed it, citing both arms and cameras. Video here.

  Inner City Press asked, what's wrong with cameras? It and the Free UN Coalition for Access have protests against various forms of attempted censorship by and at the UN. Haq backed off on cameras. But he'd said what he said, and not improvising: it was a written script. So what gives?

   With Uganda bragging of its role in re-taking Bor in South Sudan, the marginalization and double standards of the UN are ever more in focus.

  For week the Press asked the UN about Ugandan troops' presence in South Sudan, and if the UN as elsewhere at least called for restraint in the re-taking of population centers.

   The UN dodged the questions, as recently as January 16 saying the Ugandans' presence -- offensive as now confirmed -- was just a bilateral matter between governments, and saying its focus is on protecting civilians in its bases.

  What is the message of Uganda bragging of having helped Salva Kiir retake Bor from rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar? What is the UN's role, if any, in the "cessation of hostilities" talks in Addis Ababa? The UN on those wouldn't even call for more inclusion of women, as it has for example on the Syria talks in Switzerland. We'll have more on this.

 In South Sudan, the lack of transparency by UN Peacekeeping does not serve it. On December 30, Department of Peacekeeping Operations chief Herve Ladsous admonished South Sudan to not put in "caveat" on accepting troops from any country.

Though Ladsous didn't name the country -- for reasons that soon became obvious -- and later in the week UN spokesperson Farhan Haq declined to specify any country being considered for South Sudan, later on December 30 at the UN Mission of an African (and troop contributing) country Inner City Press was told Ladsous was trying to push into South Sudan peacekeeping from Morocco. Click here for more on that.

  After telling Inner City Press "I don't answer you Mister," Ladsous dodged about the impact of shifting peacekeepers out of Darfur, where two had just been killed, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Then he mentioned, for South Sudan, "half a regiment" from the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti. UN Video here, from Minute 3:09.

  Now, which country's half-regiment could that be? Questions have been asked, particularly in light of UN Peacekeeping's dubious record in Haiti: the introduction of cholera, multiple cases of sexual abuse or exploitation, nearly always followed by mere repatriation and no update on any discipline meted out, for example in the case of repatriated Sri Lanka peacekeepers.

  The website of the UNMISS mission in South Sudan lists fully 55 countries as contributing peacekeepers (Morocco notably is NOT among them) and some additional countries contributing UN Police, including Zimbabwe.

On January 2 Inner City Press asked UN acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: Yes, Farhan. I wanted to ask you two questions about peacekeeping in South Sudan. One is that, it’s reported that India is unhappy with not being consulted in some of the ways their peacekeepers were used and intends to send its own military team to meet with its peacekeepers there. I wanted to know, separately, [Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar] Mukerji has, over the holidays, said that the Force Intervention Brigade may put peacekeepers in danger. What’s your response to that? And also, if you could confirm, I’ve heard that the UN wants to send Moroccan peacekeepers to South Sudan and they’re pushing back. And one of their reasons for pushing back is that Morocco is not a member of the African Union due to the Western Sahara. And I wanted if it’s DPKO’s (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) position that countries don’t have a right to have a sort of principled, political stand on why they wouldn’t take peacekeepers? Or should they take anyone that DPKO sends?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we wouldn’t comment on the specifics of how we’re trying to bring more peacekeepers in. We, as you know, are in touch with a number of Member States trying to build up the forces, as was approved by the Security Council. And when we have details of which countries are coming in, we’ll provide those details at that point. But, I don’t have any specific names to give up until more arrivals come in.

Inner City Press: I ask that only because Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous at the stakeout made a big point of saying, it’s not… when the house is on fire, anyone must be taken. So, I just wanted to know, can you say… is that the UN’s position? That even if there’s a political, principled stated reason not to take them… that wouldn’t… that should be overridden?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: For us, the priority is to get as many peacekeepers in as we can. They’ve been authorized by the Security Council. We’re trying to get the right numbers in order to stop the bloodshed as soon as we possibly can. So, that’s our priority. But, if we have any specific announcements to make about different countries joining in, we’ll make it at that point. But, that’s not ready at this stage.

Inner City Press: And on India?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have any comment on that. Is that it? Okay? Pam?

Correspondent: Hi, Farhan. I’d like to just correct the record that was established at this briefing a few weeks ago that the UN Correspondents’ Association has not… does not have any new Samsung TV sets in the room, never has had and has never accepted any donation or loan from the UN for Samsung TVs. Thank you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, thanks. I’m in receipt of a letter from the United Nations Correspondent’s Association, which says, which does read: “Please be advised that there are no new Samsung TV sets in the UNCA room and have never been. And the UN Correspondents’ Association has not accepted a donation or loan of new Samsung TVs”. Thanks for that update. We’ll try to get any updated guidance about the language that we had earlier received. Yes?

Inner City Press: Because I’m thinking maybe you’ll correct the transcript on the answer that was given to me in writing about the television. If so, do you have any response about the note verbale that was filed by Syria that we previously discussed here?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, there’s no response to that at present. But, yes, if there’s any fresh language on the language that was given to you, we’ll try to correct the record here. Yes, Lou?

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