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In S. Sudan As Civilians Threatened in Yuai, UN Evacuates Troops, No Briefings

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 20 -- In South Sudan amid UN talk of protecting civilians and rushing to more dangerous locations to do so, UN Peacekeeping is preparing to evacuate "40 UNMISS peacekeepers from a base in the Jonglei state town of Yuai this afternoon."

  Inner City Press on December 20 asked Security Council president Gerard Araud about this plan, what would happen to civilians under threat in Yuai. Video here, from Minute 12:53.

  Araud acknowledged that UN Peacekeeping, led by its fourth Frenchman in a row Herve Ladsous, is trying to pull out of Yuai -- in fact, it would already have done so, except its evacuation helicopters were fired at. Strangely, Araud then insisted quoting Ladsous' deputy Edmond Mulet that the UN is "on" (or in) the way, and not the target.

  As if to minimize the contradiction of claiming to be protecting civilians while evacuating armed personnel from where the civilians are, Araud said he understood there were no civilians inside the UNMISS base in Yuai.

Since all of his, and the UN's, understandings come from communications with its bases, Inner City Press asked about the breakdown in communications with the Akobo base, where two Indian peacekeepers and at least 20 civilians were killed. Araud called this a "detail" and refused to answer, saying "I'm in substantial questions." Video here, from Minute 19:47.

Inner City Press went to the day's UN noon briefing and asked acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about the plan to pull out of Yuai. Haq had just claimed that the UN is moving peacekeepers from less dangerous to more dangerous places. Now he doubled back and said it is a matter of concentrating UN forces where they can have an impact.

But what about the civilians in Yuai?

Inner City Press asked Haq about a quote by UNMISS spokesperson Joe Contreras that 27 soldier loyal to Salva Kiir sought refuge with the UN in Rubkona. Haq said he couldn't confirm that -- which is weird, since the UN's spokesperson in South Sudan has already said it.

  Also on (mis?) communications, Inner City Press asked about the 11 hour delay in the UN confirmation the death of two Indian peacekeepers and injuring of another which India's Ambassador Askoke Mukerji told Inner City Press about on the afternoon of December 19.

  Haq said the delay was because the UN must notify families, and implicitly chided anyone who reported the death of two (unnamed) peacekeepers before the UN did. He also chided reports that three peacekeepers had died. While other went this this, apparently not having spoken with Mukerjee but only watched a meeting on UNTV or relied on a tweet, Inner City Press even in its headline said 2 dead, one injured.

But this is how the UN operates -- it does anything it can to discourage real questions by turning then around, then doling out information selectively to journalists who will report positively (and often inaccurately).

   UN Peacekeeping, after Inner City Press first reported the Akobo deaths based on a direct conversation with Mukerje, sent other media but not Inner City Press information by e-mail. But UN Peacekeeping didn't make this information available to the public and other impacted people. It has become dysfunctional.

  As has the wider UN. Despite claims this week about a new post Sri Lanka failure "Rights Up Front" plan, in the midst of this South Sudan crisis spokesperson Haq on Friday announced no more briefings for the week -- just spin on the UN website. (The Free UN Coalition for Access, @FUNCA_info, has protested).

  As was jotted inside the Security Council consultations on December 20, there is a "credibility crisis in the UN." Watch this site.


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