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In S. Sudan, Russian Pilots Refused to Fly After US Blocked Press Statement

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, January 12 -- When a group of 6000 fighters marched on Pibor in South Sudan earlier this month, the UN Mission UNMISS was unable to quickly respond because Russian helicopter pilots based in Juba has been refusing to fly for more than a month, as Inner City Press on January 11 exclusively reported.

  On January 12, Inner City Press asked the UN to provide the its explanation of why it neglected to replace the Russian helicopters during that time, leading up to the slowly-responded to bloodbath in Pibor. By deadline seven hours later, no such explanation has been provided.

  Russia stopped flying after its pilots were shot at, brought down and detained, for example in Louro and Chukudum in Eastern Equatoria State. In November in the Security Council, Russia's request for a Council Statement on the issue was blocked, sources told Inner City Press, by the United States. Requests to the US Mission at midday and then more formally at deadline for comment were not responded to.

  In the consultations in the last week leading to a Pibor press statement by the Council, US Ambassador Susan Rice is said to have opined that the Russians, even if not under UN contract, could and should have flown to Pibor.

   But, other Council members beyond Russia point out, it was the US which blocked a simple statement defending the Russian pilots back in November, as reported at that time by Inner City Press

  In the post-Pibor press statement that the US did agree to, the issue appears in disguised or compromised form: "The members of the Security Council expressed concern with UNMISS' shortfall of operational air transport assets, which seriously impacts its ability to carry out its mandate, and urged the Secretary-General to continue efforts to address this problem."

  Claims are made by one that one source about the Secretary General's efforts, and those of his head of the Department of Field Support Susana Malcorra.

  Regardless of these efforts -- and Inner City Press is eager to be told about them -- the fact remains that the UN knew that it was leaving much of South Sudan unprotected from mid November, and at latest from December 1 when Malcorra was at a meeting in Juba with Hilde Johnson at which the refusal of the Russians to fly was discussed.

In Juba on Dec 1 knowing no Russian copters: Malcorra, Johnson

  No one is saying that these UN officials wanted the bloodshed to occur, much less profited from it. But when $1 billion a year are spent to protect civilians, and an Organization knowingly proceeds without helicopters willing to fly for more than a month, the resulting inability to protect civilians can be blamed on negligence, on the current public record. And what happens next? Watch this site.

From the UN's January 12, 2012 transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about South Sudan; I learned yesterday that in this incident of Pibor County, that one of the explanations given and discussed behind closed doors in the Security Council is that Russian helicopters stationed in Juba declined to fly to Pibor. And they say, the Russians say, that it is because they don’t have a letter of assist in place and that UNMISS and DFS were well aware of this. I guess what I wanted to ask is this: is it the case that the letter of assist, the contract between Russia and these helicopters expired on 1 December; that a draft wasn’t provided to them until 15 December and has not yet to be signed, and that DFS knew that these ‘copters were not going to be available, and, therefore, there were no helicopters available and, therefore, the UN arrived on a delayed basis in Pibor?

Spokesperson: Well, first of all, we don’t comment on negotiations taking place between the Secretariat and Member States and the use of their military assets. But just to correct you on one key point, factual point: even while letters of assist — that’s the term — letters of assist are being negotiated, helicopters do fly. Okay, other questions?

Inner City Press: I have some follow-up because it is a pretty serious matter, and there are…

Spokesperson: I agree, it is a very serious matter.

Inner City Press: Yeah, sure, so I wanted to get to be on just the letters of assist; I wanted to say what the Russians say and I want to get your response to it, because otherwise I just have what they say. They say when they agreed to provide the helicopters they’ve never, we’re going to have machine guns on them, and, therefore, that it is not just a matter of a letter of assist not being signed, that there is a substantive change in what they were being asked to do and they made it clear to DFS that until this was approved in Moscow, they would not fly. And therefore, according to them, DFS knew for since 1 December or at least the 15th until this incident took place in January that they had no helicopters and that’s what, I just, I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but helicopters may fly in other instances after a signature, but in this case they were told it is too big a change, we won’t fly. And I wanted to know, what did DFS do when they knew that they had no helicopters?

Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, couple of things: one is that, while negotiations are going on, as I have just said, we don’t comment on negotiations between Member States and the Secretariat. I would simply say that there is more to this, and I think that you will be able to learn more about that. I don’t have more details at the moment.

  Seven hours later and counting, nothing had been provided. Watch this site.

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