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UN Stonewalls on Syria, Sudan & DRC, UK Answers on the Latter, Table in Play

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 -- Tomorrow is the Day of Peacekeepers, but today at the UN getting information from or about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was like pulling teeth.

  At the noon briefing Inner City Press asked about Sudan, Syria and the Congo. By day's end, the only answer came not from DPKO but from the President of the Security Council for June, UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant. That's appreciated, but where's DPKO?

  It wasn't just Inner City Press getting stonewalled on Syria. Russian and Lebanese reporters started asking about the kidnapping of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, to which Deputy Spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey said, "Well, Mr. Ladsous will be here tomorrow."

  Since Herve Ladsous refuses to answer Inner City Press questions -- click here for video -- Inner City Press sought to quickly follow up with Del Buey:

Inner City Press: if I could just follow up on that, because I think on Friday I had asked you about a 22 May letter from the Syrian Mission to DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), what… whether they would say what the contents were. Were you able to ask DPKO that?

Deputy Spokesperson Del Buey: We do not divulge the contents of letters from missions to us or to them.

Inner City Press: But you are just saying that you are not aware of any requests to the Secretariat, so--

Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware of any requests to the Secretariat for an investigation to Qatar, no.

Inner City Press: So that’s not what the 22 May letter is?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information

  And so it went on reports of Chadian forces in Sudan, and reported delays in deployment of the UN Intervention Brigade in the Eastern Congo. On the latter:

Inner City Press: on the DRC, there are reports that the intervention brigade is actually being being delayed, that so far only 500 from South Africa and [the United Republic of] Tanzania have arrived, and there are credible reports that South Africa is dissatisfied with the leadership of the brigade being given to [the United Republic of] Tanzania, of MONUSCO’s (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) force commander being from Brazil, and may in fact not deploy. Do you have any response to that?

Deputy Spokesperson Del Buey: I have no information on that, Matthew.

  Later on Tuesday UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant tweeted that he had just met with this Brazilian Force Commander, General Cruz. Inner City Press asked if he'd indicated when the Intervention Brigade might be fully deployed, and about any briefing of the Council in June, when Lyall Grant is president.

  Lyall Grant replied that two months sounded about right for full deployment of the Brigade, and that General Cruz might be one of the three Force Commanders to brief the Council on June 26. (These Force Commander fests can be newsy - click here for Inner City Press' July 2011 story, Sudan and South Sudan.) It's a new world, at least in social media or "digital diplomacy."

  It is not, however, yet a new world in UN communications. On Sudan and other topic, Inner City Press asked Del Buey:

Inner City Press: there are reports that the Chadian army has passed through Darfur and is now pursuing a JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) column in Southern Kordofan. Since there is a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, I am wondering, do they deny this, do they have any knowledge of this? And the in-house question is, I would again reiterate this concern about the draft media access guidelines which would limit media workspace in front of the Security Council, the posting of flyers that are substantive in the area and keep all but Resident Correspondents out of the Delegates Lounge. I’d like you to convey that to them and also to ask when those guidelines, it hasn’t been explained to me when they would actually go into force and therefore whether there is an opportunity to really get the Secretary-General to speak whether he stands behind them.

Deputy Spokesperson Del Buey: Well, that question is up to you and DPI to handle. I have already answered that. As much as I have answered last week…

Inner City Press: You are party to the agreement, [the draft Media Access Guidelines]. Is that…?

Deputy Spokesperson: …you’ve got the answer we have given. If you want any more information, you are in contact with DPI; do it with DPI. With respect to reports on Darfur, we have, UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur) visited the area and there have been no indications of any armed forces presence in that sector.

Inner City Press: In Southern Kordofan? They visited Southern Kordofan?

Deputy Spokesperson: No, they haven’t visited Southern Kordofan, but we’ll have to check on that. But so far their analysis is that there is no foreign presence there.

  Beyond Chad, there are reports of death and pull outs of Abu Karshola. So where is DPKO in all this?

Footnote: on the issue of the possible reduction in media workspace in front of the Security Council, specifically a table which was always in front of the Council before it moved to the basement, and was maintained in the basement, it is still not known what will happen on June 1. Video here.

  What seems most reasonable is to allow a table in the space between the steps down from the second floor lobby to the Council and the Turkish Lounge. That space is smaller than what the media had before, but a table to work on makes it possible for correspondents to cover entire Council sessions, and not just ten minutes at the beginning and end.

  This is particularly important since Permanent Representatives, particularly on the Permanent Five members, often leave after they speak in consultations, and before the session is announced as over. If a journalist is not at the stakeout then, they (and the diplomat) lose the chance.

Also, Council presidents hold bilateral meetings in the Council, and the proposal rule would discourage any media presence outside the Council at those times, and the lack of a table would make presence even less likely.

  The best way would be to stay or suspend the proposed rule and let it be figured out during June -- WITH a table in place. The sooner this could be clarified, the better. On May 29, not only Ladsous at noon, but also Ban Ki-moon himself is slated to take press questions, at 5 pm after Council consultations on the Congo. Watch this site.

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