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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN Admits To Errors in its Report on Destruction of Congolese Village of Kazana, Safeguards Not In Place

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

  UNITED NATIONS, September 11 --  The UN today admitted to some of the errors in its July 2006 report on its role in the destruction of the village of Kazana in the eastern Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

   After seven weeks of questions, the UN Monday acknowledged that it got even the date of the incident wrong in its report, and that it misstated the sequence in which Congolese soldiers and UN peacekeepers entered the village. In response to Inner City Press questions, UN Associate Spokesman Ari Gaitanis provided a written statement on behalf of the UN that before the UN peacekeepers entered the village, the Congolese army had burned the "huts" in the village down.

   The events at Kazana, and the UN's misleading self-exoneration seven weeks ago, highlight the dangers of the UN's decision to join forces with the Congolese army, known by its French acronym FARDC. Particularly in the eastern Ituri district, the FARDC includes former rebels and militias, many accused of human rights abuses. The UN's mission to the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, conducts joint military patrols with the FARDC. In Kazana in April, a village was burned to the ground, and the UN was left in the position of defending, some say covering up, the incident.

    Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman's Office concerning the destruction of Kazana including by fire on June 19 and July 18.

   Above: Burning in DR Congo (North Kivu), by MONUC

   On July 28, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General gave Inner City Press a one-page report stating

"There are media reports alleging that a number of civilian casualties may have resulted from a military operation by the Congolese armed Forces (FARDC) with the support of MONUC troops on 22 April 2006, in the village of Kazana, Ituri District, in North East DRC. These allegations have been thoroughly investigated and found untrue. On 22 April 2006, a joint MONUC (1 Pakistani company, 1 company South African) FARDC (3 companies) operation was launched against militia positions in Kazana. After being fired upon by hostile elements, MONUC and FARDC forces engaged the militia positions with mortar fire from 0600 to 1000hrs. At 1200hrs, MONUC and FARDC troops entered the village which was condoned and searched. During the operation which lasted was over [sic] at 1600hrs, 1 FARDC soldier was killed in action, 3 others were wounded, and 4 dead bodies were recovered."

       On July 28, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan about Kazana. Mr. Annan responded, "I do not have details on the issues you raise." Video here, at Minutes 16:45 through 18:18.

    On July 31, Inner City Press asked the head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno about MONUC's one-page self-exoneration. We are still looking at it, Mr. Guehenno responded.  On August 2, Inner City Press asked the head of MONUC, American William Lacy Swing, about the one-page report. Mr. Swing responded that from MONUC's perspective, "the investigation is done."

       Seven weeks later, Inner City Press submitted some further written questions to the UN Spokesman's Office, some of which are reproduced below along with answers the UN provided in writing on Monday:

Q.)  Our  sources  say  the destruction of Kazana occurred on April 21, not April 22. Which is it?

A.) The attack on the Kazana Village occurred on 21 April.

  Note: the report the UN handed out on July 28 didn't even have the date of the incident correct.

Q.)  The  one-pager  says  MONUC  and FARDC fired mortars from 0600 to 1000 hours. Our sources say it was from 0700 to 1400 hours. Which is it? Q.)  The  one-pager says MONUC and FARDC at 1200 entered the village "which was cordoned and searched." Our sources, including one who entered with the South  African Blue Helmets, say that FADRC entered the village first, from 1400 to 1500 hours, and set the houses aflame, and that MONUC did not enter until 1600 hours. Which is it?

A.)  On 21 April 2006, a joint action was launched to clear village Kazana. Elements  of 1 [Pakistani] company, elements of 1 [South African] company and 3 FARDC companies

participated  in  the  action. The engagement began at 0900. Opening mortar fire started with smoke rounds Fire support requested by FARDC was given by MONUC  forces  only on selected, and observed, positions from where militia were  engaging  joint  forces. After four hours of fighting UN peacekeepers and  FARDC soldiers conducted a search of the village and found no civilian casualties.  Before  the entry of MONUC troops entered Kazana (1 platoon of South African  company),  FARDC burned down huts.

  Note that in the report the UN put out on July 28, there was not admission that the huts of Kazana were burned down, nor that the Congolese soldiers entered the village before the UN peacekeepers did. The reason for the sequence, which allowed at least the burning of the village, is inquired into by Inner City Press' next question, which the UN declines to answer:

Q.)  As  FARDC forces advanced after 1400HRS they yelled over the radio for MONUC  to stop firing in case they got hit. The Pakistani mortar bombs that were  called  in  by  the  South  Africans  on that hillside overshot their targets and cut up a party of FARDC soldiers on the other side of the hill. One  FARDC soldier was hit in both legs. The FARDC soldiers were angry with MONUC  for  the  mortar friendly fire. That may be why the MONUC forces did not sufficiently quickly or thoroughly search Kazana. Please respond.

A.) Those are rumors which [the UN / Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has no comment on.

            Whether or not the UN's mortar fire hits Congolese troops is a questions of fact, not of rumor. These facts continue to be inquired into by the television journalist present at Kazana that day, Aidan Hartley. Sources tell Inner City Press that the UN was dismissive of Mr. Hartley's account in part because it came out just before the Congolese presidential election. Inner City Press has noted that the timing is related to that of broadcast television, not election-spoiling.

   Still unacted on by the UN are Inner City Press' requests to interview the MONUC commanders at Ituri, for updates on villages around Kazana, and for records underlying the UN's July 28 report and September 11 contradicting supplement. Inner City Press has told the UN spokespeople that there will be more questions. And there will be.

            Another questions Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman on Monday concerned UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland speaking by phone with the LRA's Vincent Otti, who is under International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes including (ab)use of child soldiers, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General confirmed the telephone call, and added that Mr. Egeland met face to face with Vincent Otti. Asked to asking the seeming incongruity between Mr. Egeland's call for the enforcement of ICC indictments and his meeting an indictee face to face, Assistant Spokesman Brendan Varma made reference to peace first. When it was pointed out that Mr. Egeland would in all probability not meeting face to face with those still on the lam from the Hague tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Varma pointed out that those individuals are not at this point involved in peace talks, as are Vincent Otti and Joseph Kony. What this means for impunity remains to be seen, and remains to be asked of Mr. Egeland upon his return.

   Finally, an interim update: Inner City Press has been asking the UN spokesman's office and others for weeks about the propriety of governments giving free or cut-rate housing to UN employees, including as inquired into by a June 2006 letter to Kofi Annan from U.S. Ambassador John Bolton. (An employee of the UN showed Inner City Press the letter, which the U.S. Mission a week after inquiry was willing to confirm.).

  A week ago, Inner City Press asked the UN Department of Peacekeeping to "answer if any DPKO personnel receive free or cut-rate housing from a government (or non-UN, non-government) source."  No response has been provided.

   On Friday, September 8 Inner City Press asked outgoing General Assembly president Jan Eliasson about housing subsidies by government, and Monday Mr. Eliasson said it's a matter the Secretariat should deal with, should abide by rules and set principles of international civil servants, "I understand they are looking into it." Video here, from Minute 32:22.

  Monday UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Inner City Press an answer would be coming soon. In a presentation later on Monday, Amb. Bolton stated that he has received a response, but that it is insufficient. Mr. Dujarric indicates that the matter will be addressed during his press conference Tuesday at noon, prior to the presentation by the UN's head legal officer. We'll see.

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