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Before UN Akobo Incommunicado, Rice Told ICP DPKO Should Improve, Did It?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 20 -- After the UN belatedly confirmed the death of two peacekeepers in Akobo, South Sudan, 11 hours after India's Permanent Representative to the UN Asoke Mukerji told Inner City Press about them, the Security Council convened on Friday morning.

   Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant if he thinks there may have been a communications problem for the UN and its Akobo base, given that India knew about the deaths 11 hours before the UN.  UK transcription below.

  Lyall Grant said that in the closed door consultations, questions will come out in the briefing this morning.

  Here's one: back in August 2010, when it was exposed that the UN did nothing amid mass rape in Walikale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- foreshadowing the UN's Herve Ladsous' cover-up of the DRC army's mass rapes at Minova in November 2012 -- then US Ambassador Susan Rice told Inner City Press the UN should improve its communications.

From the US Mission's 2010 transcript, video here --

Inner City Press: On DRC, what does the U.S. think that MONUSCO could do in terms of communicating with civilians? People talked about satellite phones, flares, what are the ideas you have?

Ambassador Rice: Focused on Congo. We did discuss, and I myself raised in the form of brainstorming, some possible ideas for how to enhance communication between remote villages where there's no cell phone coverage and you know, a company forwarding operating bases of MONUSCO. And I don't want to put any of them out as considered proposals, but certainly radios and satellite phones are among the tools out there that could conceivably be utilized. How feasible they are, whether the radio coverage in dense bush is feasible, at what distance, whether the costs of cell phone-or satellite phone-usage are prohibited, I don't have the answers to those. But those are the kinds of ideas certainly that members of the Council are starting to generate. We expect further insights and ideas from MONUSCO and we're going to come back to this and insist that there be both a greater understanding than I frankly feel exists in the Council as to the extent and the limitations of MONUSCO's ability to communicate with outlying villages and then some very specific steps that can be taken to enhance that communication.

   Has it happened? What exactly were the communications by the UN with its Akobo base, communications that the Indian Battalion was able to have? Will the US or another mission follow up on this?

  On December 19, Indian Ambassador Mukerji asked Inner City Press if there had been any accountability for the previous killing of Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan, and called for that in this case.

  The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, whose Herve Ladsous' spokesperson stood to the side while Mukerji spoke to the press, never issued anything publicly on December 19. One of his or Ladsous' favored scribes re-reported what Mukerji had said, along with a notation from DPKO to take the information with caution.

   Eleven hours later, the UN Mission in South Sudan via its just started Twitter account said its helicopter flights had confirmed the death of two Indian Battalion soldiers, and as Mukerji had told the Press, the wounding of another.

  The question arises: how could the Indian Mission in New York get this information 11 hours before DPKO? The UN said its communication with its Akobo base were down. Obviously, India's communications weren't down. What is wrong with Ladsous' DPKO, and the UN more generally?

  Mukerji reminded Inner City Press of the ruling of the previous UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien that with the Force Intervention Brigade on the Democratic Republic of the Congo - and now with peacekeepers in Mali shooting at civilians and co-housing with France's Serval force -- UN peacekeepers are becoming combatants, parties to armed conflict.

  Murkerji said that troop contributing countries should be told this. This would seem to be the job of Ladsous (who says he "has a policy" of not answering Press questions) and of the President of the Security Council.

  This month that is France's Gerard Araud, who left a December 19 Peacekeeping seminar before the moment of silence, tweeted by Inner City Press, for the Indian peacekeepers. Most recently he refused to answer specific questions about intermingling with Serval making UN peacekeepers combatants, calling it micro-management and chiding the question.

  Then the French Mission to the UN deleted the question and Araud's answer from its "transcript" of Araud's stakeout.

We are still endeavoring to find out more about the killings in South Sudan, and for accountability. So far, without any assistance or transparency from Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping. Watch this site.

Update: Forty minutes after publication of the above, DPKO through the UN Spokesperson's Office belated e-mailed out that "aerial assessment" confirmed death of two peacekeepers. What -- UN has no communications like India does? Watch this site.

Here's from the UK Mission's trancript:

Inner City Press: Do you think there's a communication problem with the base in Akobo, because you were in the meeting yesterday where the Indian Ambassador already knew the Peacekeepers had been killed, and then the UN said it could only confirm it with aerial surveillance? Is there some radio issue or how does the UN communicate with its base?

Amb Lyall Grant: Not that I am aware of but obviously all of these questions will come out in the briefing this morning.


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