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In S. Sudan, UN Silent on Retaking of Bentiu, 350 Nepal Troops From Haiti, Confirmed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 9 -- As in South Sudan civilians flee or hide in Bentiu in anticipation of the SPLA army, Inner City Press on January 9 asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq what the UN's position on such "re-taking" by the army is.

   Haq declined to state a UN position, insisting that the UN in New York is waiting for reports from its Juba-based UNMISS mission. But what is the UN's POSITION on ceasefires? They never called for one in Sri Lanka, as the government re-took the North. And now?

   On which peacekeepers the UN is moving into South Sudan, Inner City Press asked and Haq confirmed that 350 Nepalese peacekeepers are coming in.. from Haiti.

  Given the UN's stonewalling and even refusal to accept court papers, it has to be asked: will at least these be screened for cholera?

  Inner City Press also asked, again, about the political implications in Bangladesh of Ban Ki-moon's call to Sheikh Hasina for the troops. Haq denied that this reduced pressure or leverage on Sheikha Hasina, who has gone on to arrest other opposition figures, even after the Ban Ki-moon statement Haq quoted from. We'll have more on this.

  On Bentiu on January 5 the UN Mission in South Sudan, reporting on itself, said that "foreign governments have worked with UNMISS to relocate their citizens. Some, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda have chartered planes to Bentiu or Heglig to bring their people back home."

  Heglig is the oil town the SLPA damage to which became a big issue in the UN Security Council back in April 2012. Click here for Inner City Press reporting from that time.

  So other countries fly their nationals from Bentiu to Heglig -- but Sudan cannot? Or does not? The UNMISS self-report does not ask the question. Nor does the UN say who controls Mayom, or answer questions about Rubkona, across the river from Bentiu.

  Back on December 20, Inner City Press asked then Security Council president Gerard Araud of France about Rubkona. Video here, from Minute 12:54. Araud said the issue did not come up; the French mission's transcript spelled it "Rupkona." Now what?

 Again, despite the UN's stated focus on South Sudan, it will not squarely answer the most basic questions about it.

  At the UN noon briefing on January 6, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Farhan Haq to confirm that UNMISS had been asked to provide protection to MP Kong Dak Jishlive, whose house near UNDP in Juba was reported repeatedly raided by authorities.

  Three hours later there was neither confirmation nor denial. At the January 7 noon briefing, without having sent any e-mail answer to Inner City Press, Haq read out a (non) answer, that UNMISS does protect some people but will not answer on this MP.

   Inner City Press also asked Haq on January 6 what the UN thought of the lack of women in the negotiations in Addis Ababa, other than Rebecca Garang and perhaps a few others. The UN talks endlessly about this, under Security Council resolution 1325 and many since.

 (In fact, UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman cited Resolution 1325 later on January 6 -- but that was about the Central African Republic. And the Security Council will hold an Arria formula meeting on January 17 about the participation of women in talks -- on Syria. What of South Sudan?)

  Haq said they are IGAD's negotiations, adding that of course the UN like representative delegations to talks. But what does the UN do about it? As long as South Sudan has been a country, and before, the UN has been there.

  Half an hour later at incoming Security Council president Zeid's press conference, Inner City Press asked about the talks between presidents Kiir and Bashir about a joint oil security force. He said to wait for the Security Council's January 9th meeting on Sudan and South Sudan. We'll be there.

Even 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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