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|July 6, 2011|
The Daily Star (Lebanon)- Excerpts. Link to complete piece below
The United Nations, already examining the performance of its
peacekeeping troops in Abyei in May, must widen its investigations to
their performance in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan in
June. In Abyei, Zambian peacekeepers stand accused of staying in their
barracks during fighting between government forces and the Sudan
People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In South Kordofan, Egyptian troops
are accused of actively conspiring with government forces against the
Nuba SPLA - for the last several years the government's partner in
peace, but denounced by Khartoum as a "rebel group" ever since
fighting erupted a month ago.
I had decided, on balance, not to write this piece. I felt it was not
the moment to focus on the peacekeepers, outgunned in the new fighting
and under orders from Khartoum to leave South Kordofan by July 9. More
important, for the moment, surely, are the disproportionate attacks on
Nuba civilians - especially aerial attacks.
What changed my mind? An image. Not of women and children torn apart
by 500-pound bombs. Of peacekeepers - taking photographs of protesters
in Kauda, a Nuba town attacked by Antonovs and MIG-29s eight times in
June. There they are, with their digital cameras, snapping away as
Nuba women rail against their "inaction" and "collaboration and connivance" with Khartoum.
It wasn't, admittedly, as bad as Tawila in North Darfur in May 2008,
when U.N. troops stood in little huddles, comparing photographs, as
Janjaweed ran amok under their noses. But two days before U.N. troops
treated the Kauda protest as something anecdotal, another snap for a
triumphal album, a single government bomb killed and wounded dozens of
civilians in Kurchi village. Photos taken by the Nuba are not family
viewing - two little girls spooned in death, with a red plastic jug
suggesting they were on their way to, or perhaps from, Kurchi's water
point when it was hit; a third, her abdomen a crimson flower; a
fourth, cradled bloodily in a young man's arms.
No U.N. troops took photos in Kurchi. At the time of writing they had
not been to the village.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission UNMIS has been a part of the problem in
South Kordofan, where many Nuba, although northern Sudanese, joined
south Sudan's war for a democratic "New Sudan". Established in March
2005, after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended the 22-year civil
war, the mission was headed until 2010 by a man who colleagues say was
given to calling the Nuba "monkeys". On his watch, the lack of initiative of UNMIS and perceived complicity with Khartoum was a cause of deep frustration, and anger, to its most committed staff. UNMIS was also spectacularly uninformed about the reality of South Kordofan.
How little UNMIS knew. How little it cared to know! And how it has
come to haunt the mission now that its own men are, in its own words,
facing increasing "intimidation and obstruction" in South Sudan.
As a neighbor of Sudan, Egypt was expected put its bilateral relations
ahead of its peacekeeping duties. However, the extent of the
Egyptians' bias has shocked even senior staff from UNMIS.
Says one former staffer: "All political interpretations of the
situation came straight from the Khartoum regime and were disseminated
by the Egyptian army as UNMIS position both to the local parties and
the population at large. The racism that the Khartoum regime displayed
openly toward the opposition SPLM the Egyptians repeated consistently
and without variation."
The many charges leveled against UNMIS may not all be true, but they
form part of a pattern of bias and neglect that requires serious
investigation and complete transparency. A starting point could be the
question asked by the Nuba commander, Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, in a letter
to his Egyptian counterpart three days before war began.
"We have noticed", he wrote, "that the forces of the Central Reserve
Police have chosen as their camp an area adjacent to the headquarters
of your forces. The type of weapons and vehicles used by these forces
indicate they are combat troops. Our question is: What is the relation
between your forces and these?"