East Timor leader Ramos-Horta tells UN to stop investigation into 1999 killings

Reports today in the Australian press state that “East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta has said he wants the United Nations to drop its investigation into bloodshed surrounding a 1999 independence vote from Indonesia. Leaders in East Timor and Indonesia said in July that the issue was closed after expressing regret at the findings of a joint truth commission that blamed Indonesian security and civilian forces for ‘gross human rights violations. But the United Nations, which boycotted the truth commission, has said it will continue to back prosecutions through the Serious Crime Unit” … President Ramos-Horta, however, said that “As chief of state, I don’t authorize or allow the UN investigation into the 1999 crimes. Our position is keeping good ties with Indonesia”…

Some background on the Shebaa Farms

Some interesting details on the Shebaa Farms issue from Nicholas Blanford in The National, an English-language paper published in Abu Dhabi :

“Securing the liberation of the Shebaa Farms has been a cornerstone of Fouad Siniora’s diplomacy since 2005 when he headed his first government. Mr Siniora said he believes that an Israeli withdrawal from the rugged mountainside would end Israel’s occupation of Lebanese territory, thus undermining Hizbollah’s rationale for retaining its weapons for resistance. Although Mr Siniora energetically marketed his scheme to US officials, Washington adopted an ambivalent view, preferring to side with Israel’s refusal to hand back the farms without any guarantees that Hizbollah would disarm.
However, the new US interest in promoting an Israeli withdrawal from the farms apparently stems from a willingness by Israel to yield the territory in the context of continuing indirect negotiations with Syria and the hope that the peace talks can be extended to Lebanon. ‘From the onset of this government, which calls for the freedom of the Shebaa Farms … this topic has been a priority’, Mr Siniora said last week. ‘Israel must withdraw without any direct or indirect negotiations and without any contact between Lebanon and Israel’. He said the fate of Hizbollah’s weapons would be discussed once the new government is formed.

“The Shebaa Farms were occupied by Israel after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which the Golan Heights were seized and later annexed. In May 2000, the United Nations ruled that the Shebaa Farms was Syrian – not Lebanese – territory occupied by Israel and its fate was subject to future Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Lebanon rejected the finding and in Oct 2000 Hizbollah launched a resistance campaign of sporadic hit-and-run raids against Israeli troops in the farms. After the end of the 2006 Hizbollah-Israel war, the United Nations agreed to re-examine Lebanon’s case for claiming the Shebaa Farms as a means of further cementing the cessation of hostilities. It is now widely accepted that Lebanon’s case is valid, particularly as Syria has backed Lebanon’s claim, strengthening the proposal for the farms to be placed temporarily under UN jurisdiction until Lebanon and Syria demarcate their joint border.

“Although the occupation of the Shebaa Farms is seen as the main justification for Hizbollah’s continued armed status, there are several other outstanding disputes that the Shiite party occasionally raises – releasing all Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons as well as receiving maps of old Israeli minefields in south Lebanon and the co-ordinates of cluster bomb strikes in the 2006 war. These two grievances could be resolved in the coming days or weeks, especially with speculation that a prisoner swap between Hizbollah and Israel is imminent.

“More arcane disputes include the return of the so-called ‘Seven Villages’ and Lebanon’s objection to three points along the Blue Line, the UN-delineated boundary corresponding to the international border between Lebanon and Israel that was drawn up in 2000 and behind which Israel was obliged to withdraw to fulfil UN resolutions. The three anomalies along the Blue Line where Israel gained some Lebanese territory is not regarded as a genuine excuse for Hizbollah to keep its arms because the line is not the border, just a temporary and technical measure by which to gauge Israel’s troop withdrawal. Any differences over the delineation of the 1922 border would be discussed at peace talks between Lebanon and Israel”…

The full report by Nicholas Blanford can be read here /a>.

UN reports 102 peacekeepers "stranded" in Eritrea's Temporary Security Zone

The UN spokesperson told journalists at Friday’s daily noon briefing that “On Eritrea, the regrouping of UN peacekeepers ahead of a temporary relocation out of Eritrea was again obstructed by Eritrean soldiers today in Senafe. The latest obstruction has left 102 peacekeepers stranded inside the Temporary Security Zone and 21 vehicles sent to collect them unable to do so. Another 13 peacekeepers and eight UN vehicles were earlier today also stopped by Eritrean soldiers at the same checkpoint in Senafe. Azouz Ennifar, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Ethiopia and Eritrea, was assured in a telephone conversation with Eritrean officials today that there were no explicit instructions from the Eritrean Government to prevent UN peacekeepers from relocating. Despite the obstructions, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea says that only two UN camps remain to be vacated, with UN military headquarters near the town of Barentu now expected to be vacated by this Sunday. Meanwhile, all military observers have now been accounted for, with 104 relocated to Asmara and another 11 awaiting further instructions in the port town of Assab”. The more-or-less complete transcript of Friday’s UN noon briefing is here.

On Thursday, the UN told journalists at the daily noon briefing that “regrouping continues for UN peacekeepers in Asmara, with noted progress in the relocation from 33 deployment sites in the Temporary Security Zone to Asmara and Assab. That’s according to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which adds that, to date, 788 out of a total of 1,115 military personnel have regrouped in Asmara while 112 have gathered in Assab. The Mission continues to encounter obstructions at the Senafe checkpoint where Eritrean soldiers are turning back some UN convoys. In the past 24 hours, seven UN posts inside the Temporary Security Zone were vacated and taken over by Eritrean militia, police and army personnel”. Thursday’s more-or-less complete transcript is posted

Comments to the press are not Security Council Statements — so what is going on here?

Alerted again by Aletheia Kallos, who said “my guess is it means an ongoing pink alert stall rather than red flag”, I’ve just checked out this Agence France Presse (AFP) article, here.

This article states that “The Security Council took Eritrea to task Thursday for continuing to obstruct a planned evacuation of UN personnel caused by Asmara’s refusal to provide fuel and food. A statement issued by the council’s 15 members following closed-door consultations ‘condemned Eritrea’s systematic violations of successive Security Council resolutions as well as declarations of its president’. They expressed support for UN boss Ban Ki-moon’s efforts to resolve the situation and said they were awaiting a special report from him ‘to deal with this issue in a more comprehensive manner’.”

Either I am very confused, or something is very confusing.

I went searching for this UNSC statement, but found none. The official UN website reports nothing about any UN Security Council statement.

The UN News Centre [the UN uses British English spellings] reported exactly this:
“Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), briefed the Security Council today in a closed meeting on UNMEE’s temporary relocation efforts. In comments to the press following the briefing, Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama, which holds the rotating Council presidency, said the 15-member panel ‘condemned Eritrea’s systematic violations of successive Security Council resolutions’. Mr. Arias said the Council backed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s efforts to resolve the situation and was waiting now for his special report on the issue”.

Comments to the press are not the same as Security Council statements.

Meanwhile, reports from the region indicate, if it weren’t already clear, that the situation is serious. Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) filed a dispatch from Nairobi reporting that “The African Union (AU) said Friday it remains engaged in the border crisis between Eritrea and Ethiopia but said the two parties lack goodwill to bring an end to the dispute. A United Nations mission monitoring the disputed frontier since the end of a 1998-2000 border war fought between the neighbouring foes began relocating to the Eritrean capital Asmara last week after their fuel and food supplies were cut by Eritrea. ‘We are still there. The two parties are failing to arrive to a solution in spite of what we are doing’, said newly-elected AU chairman Jean Ping. ‘There is lack of goodwill to work toward a resolution’. Tiny Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but the disputed border town of Badme remained under contention and sparked the war that killed some 70,000 people … The frontier remains tense and with the withdrawal of the several thousand UN troops, observers fear a new war may break out”.  This DPA report is posted here.

[Badme isn’t even listed on the map below, which can be seen at larger size here.]

CIA map found on relief web

The highlights (which are just outline notes) of Friday’s regular noon briefing for journalists at UNHQ/NY (given today by a deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq) says that “The Council had received a briefing yesterday afternoon by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet about the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). Afterwards, the Council President told the press that Council members condemned Eritrea’s systematic violations of successive Security Council resolutions”.

Comments to the press are not the same as Security Council statements. After the media reports (Reuters also mentioned a supposed UNSC statement in one of their stories), I wonder why the UN spokespersons office didn’t clarifiy this … then, I wondered if it were somehow deliberate? That is, did the members of the UN SC agree that the SC President could make a statement to the press, that would then be referred to as a Security Council statement (wink, wink)? And if so, why would they do this, instead of clearly issuing a statement?

Really, this is all a bit strange.

Friday’s highlights also report that “UNMEE says that UN peacekeepers in Eritrea are continuing to regroup in the capital Asmara. The Mission says there were no attempted or perceived obstructions of this effort yesterday. UN convoys en route to Asmara are moving troops, equipment and supplies from all sectors of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Asked whether UNMEE is capable of performing its mandated tasks in the Eritrean part of the Temporary Security Zone, the Spokesperson said that, because of the fuel restrictions imposed by Eritrea, that work has been hindered. The Mission continues to try to fulfill its mandate as much as it can, but it is largely unable to do so on the Eritrean side of the TSZ. At the same time, he added, the Secretary-General has urged the Parties to respect the Temporary Security Zone. Asked what the United Nations is doing to inform Member States on options for UNMEE, Haq said that today, the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was providing a briefing for troop contributors about the situation on the ground”. These notes are posted here.

A nearly complete transcript of Thursday’s regular noon briefing shows that UN spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists that “The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea says that regrouping of peacekeepers and their equipment to Asmara continued yesterday and today. Even so, Eritrean militiamen have prevented a vehicle carrying two soldiers to travel Asmara from the Temporary Security Zone. The Mission says the two peacekeepers could not proceed until the militiamen holding them had received instructions from Eritrean authorities in Asmara. Meanwhile, the four armoured personnel carriers held up by militiamen since 17 February in Om Hajer were allowed to proceed to Asmara today”.

Then, there were questions from one or more journalists:
Question: The letter from the Permanent Mission of Eritrea yesterday — they accused the UN Press Office specifically of levelling unfounded accusations against Eritrea, and they said they did not ask UNMEE to regroup in Asmara, that it was unilateral and that you guys have politicized the fuel issue. Do you have any reaction to that?
Spokesperson: We don’t have any reaction to that, no. As you know, due to the lack of cooperation by Eritrean authorities, UNMEE has been instructed to resort to other contingency plans and to regroup in Asmara. That is what is being done right now, and all the personnel present in Eritrea are being moved to Asmara. And this is to facilitate further relocation out of the country. This is all I can say.
Question: Just one follow-up. Do you have anything on any massive troop movements along the border on either side?
Spokesperson: It has not been reported to us, no”.

Question: Would the Secretary-General agree with Ambassador Churkin’s characterization that the situation in Eritrea is unprecedented in its obstruction of peacekeeping?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have an agreement or disagreement — I think we have the report that was done by the Secretariat. That will be done this afternoon, I think, it is going to be the meeting. You will get more information on what our own assessment is”. This transcript of Thursday’s briefing is posted here.

There has been no official statement issued by the UN Security Council.

And, comments to the press are not the same as Security Council statements.

UN regroups peacekeepers and equiment in Eritrea to Asmara

The UN announced at today’s noon briefing at UNHQ/NY that “Due to the lack of cooperation by Eritrean Authorities in the Mission’s efforts to temporarily relocate into Ethiopia, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has been instructed to regroup in Asmara all personnel and equipment in Eritrea.  This move will facilitate further relocation out of the country”.

This is in the opposite direction from last week, when UNMEE and its equipment were heading for Ethiopia.

The UN added that troop-contributing countries were informed of this on 15 February, and said that “As UNMEE’s regrouping began this weekend, two flatbed trucks carrying Armored Personnel Carriers from the far western border post of Om Hajer were stopped inside the Temporary Security Zone by Eritrean militiamen on Sunday”.

UNMEE begins "temporary relocation" to Ethiopia

The UN announced that the main body of the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has begin a “temporary relocation”, due to Eritrea’s blocade of diesel fuel supplies which poses a danger to the functioning and possibly to the lives of the peacekeepers. This “temporary relocation”, the UN says, is to “designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side of the border”.

Is that clear?

In a rather sullen and sulky statement released Thursday, the UN rather undiplomatically pointed the finger at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.  The statement was issued in the name of UN SG BAN Ki-Moon by his Spokesperson (Michele Montas), and in it the UN also said that “Advance units of UNMEE started moving across the border, by road, on 11 February, while the main body started its relocation earlier today. So far, some of UNMEE’s convoys have been allowed to cross the border without any obstruction, while others have been stopped and later allowed to cross or asked to turn back. Yesterday, the Secretariat discussed with the Permanent Representative of Eritrea the arrangements for the relocation process. UNMEE is also engaging the Eritrean authorities in order to ensure that appropriate instructions are issued to the Eritrean troops in the TSZ [Temporary Security Zone] and officials at the crossing points, to facilitate the movement of our personnel and equipment. The Secretary-General stresses the important conflict prevention role UNMEE plays in promoting regional stability. However, without the fuel needed to conduct its operations, the Mission has been effectively immobilized and rendered unable to carry out its critical functions. The Secretary-General regrets that the relocation has become necessary, despite the letter he addressed to President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea on 21 January seeking his urgent intervention to resolve the situation”.   The full UN press release can be found here.

One of the dangers in the present situation is that Eritrea is being set up as the bad guy. This will only heighten already high tensions in the region. Is that what the UN really wants to do?

No new internal system of justice for UN staff until 2009

It appears that the UN’s highly-flawed system of internal justice will not be revamped until 2009. at the earliest. Here is an exchange from the UN’s daily Noon Briefing on Monday 5 November:

“Question: What reasons were given, with respect to not readying the new justice system until 2009?

“Spokesperson: What was the reason for not having the Administration of Justice — the new system — only available, only introduced from 1 January?

“Question: 2009?

Spokesperson: 2009… I think it’s simply a case of just preparations, working out the new system. As you see, even now it will take – just based on what one has heard already in the Sixth Committee, and if you read the ACABQ report then you will see that there is considerable discussion as regards both to the legal and to the administrative and budgetary aspects. So it’s just a simple question of, I think – simple as in quotations – working out all the details. And that will take considerable time…”

The mention of the considerable time it will take before the UN’s internal justice system is revamped is here..

Rice says UNSG BAN to establish office to service Iraq neighbors' meetings

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told journalists travelling with her en route to Ankara, Turkey last night, according to a State Department transcript, that UNSG BAN Ki-Moon is “ready” to establish a permanent office to service the “neighbors’ meetings” on Iraq: “This is the second neighbors ministerial and I think we expect it to become a recurring event because the parties are finding it useful. And with Ban Ki-moon ready to establish an office, permanent office to help provide continuity between the meetings, I think that this ministerial is now taking on the character of a forum in which people can repeatedly bring issues“.

UNGA President disappointed with attendance at meeting on finance for development

The spokesperson for the President of this annual General Assembly told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Tuesday that the President is, indeed, disappointed that there was not sufficient high-level attendance at the meeting that opened Tuesday.

The President’s “disappointment”, the spokesperson said, “reflects is the fact that he was expecting them, probably based on assurances, to be here at a high level. In fact, if you may remember the whole process of scheduling this particular high-level debate or dialogue, the original date was 22nd and 23rd of October. Then, because of the meetings in Washington of the World Bank and the IMF, this had shifted to 23-24 in order to allow for those meetings to conclude and to have finance and development ministers, central bankers here, and also high-level representation from the international, financial and other relevant institutions. We’re not talking about the financial institutions only but, for example, World Trade Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), etc., the ones that are relevant for FfD [Financing for Development].  So, in that context, yes there was expectation for something higher, thus the expressed disappointment”.

Of course, there is a problem in explaining the purpose of the two-day High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development — just look at this jargon: “The two-day high-level event is a key element of the preparatory work mapped out by the Assembly to hold the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in the second part of 2008 in Doha. That Review Conference is supposed to assess progress made on the key elements of the Monterrey consensus, which, as you may remember, was adopted in 2002. The idea there is to reaffirm goals and commitments made and share lessons learned … The two-day Dialogue that we have here now is to provide impetus to preparations for the Review Conference and also to provide some substantive elements as to what that Review Conference is going to look like”.

That’s the way the UN talks — and it’s hard to sell that.
Continue reading UNGA President disappointed with attendance at meeting on finance for development

UN Official freed in Somalia

The head of the UN’s World Food Program in Somalia was freed today on bail, the AP reported.

“Idris Osman, the Somali head of U.N. World Food Program operations in Somalia’s war-battered capital, was seized Oct. 17 when dozens of armed security agents stormed a U.N. compound. Osman was released on bail Tuesday, but is still under investigation for unspecified crimes, said a top Somali intelligence chief, Gen. Mohamed Warsame Darwish”.

The AP report on the freeing of a UN official in Somalia is published on the NY Times website.

UPDATE: Osman has apparently been pardoned by the President of what is reported to be a non-functioning government in Somalia, which will also participate in a joint investigation of this whole incident with the UN’s World Food Program. The UN spokesperson announced at Tuesday’s regular Noon Briefing for journalists at UNHQ/NY that: “Osman was now back at work at the United Nations office in Mogadishu upon a decision by the President, with no charges laid against him. The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Transitional Federal Government will shortly launch a joint fact-finding mission looking into the circumstances of his detention”.

In response to questions from a journalist, there was a bit more light shed on the situation:

“Question: It had been reported that one of the reasons behind it was the Government’s unhappiness that WFP was distributing food through mosques, so I’d like to know if we can get an answer to whether WFP intends to continue distributing food through mosques or is, in fact, stopping that.

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the distribution through mosques has been continuing”.

[The Spokesperson later added that food distributions had been interrupted after Somali National Security Service officers entered the United Nations compound in Mogadishu on 17 October.  They will resume in Mogadishu as soon as possible, with the agreement of the Transitional Federal Government. The World Food Programme (WFP) had announced that they would distribute food in the most effective way to reach the people in need, including through the mosques.]