By Matthew Russell Lee
Inner City Press
UNITED NATIONS – Information about the Horn of Africa flowed Wednesday in the half-light outside the UN Security Council, after an uneventful session about Sudan and Guinea-Bissau. Unprompted, the representative of Saudi Arabia denied that his country has shipped arms into Somalia, while Sudan accepted a benign spin of Ethiopian shipments into South Sudan.
Inner City Press began by asking Sudan’s Ambassador, on the record, about reports of Ethiopian arms shipments to Juba and South Sudan, and that the tanks hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia were also headed for South Sudan. He said quickly that the tanks’ destination s being investigated and Ethiopia has provided clarification, ostensibly the weapons are meant for some exhibition in Juba, leaving Sudan’s relations with Ethiopia positive. The connection between this and positions on suspending the International Criminal Court’s proceedings against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir remain to be reported, on the record.
Earlier in the week, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson Michele Montas for any UN response to reports that Sudan has arrested one of the two current Sudanese ICC indictees, Ali Kushayb. The first day, she said those were only reports. Then on Wednesday she said, “I’ve been asked about reports indicating that the Government of Sudan has detained Ali Khushayb for crimes committed in Darfur, which the Secretary-General has noted. If confirmed, this is a welcome step towards the vital need to end impunity and bring to justice those responsible for crimes in Darfur.” Video here.
Inner City Press asked Sudan’s Ambassador later on Wednesday to respond to this UN quote. “Who is she to comment on that?” he asked. “What business is it of hers?”
On Thursday, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas if she, Ban or joint UN-African Union envoy Bassole had any comment on President Al-Bashir’s so-called “people’s initiative” convened in Darfur, without involvement of armed rebels. Ms. Montas said that Bassole is attending, and that any comment would be made only after the initiative is over. Video here. Sudan’s Ambassador’s review of Mr. Bassole was given, but on an off the record basis.
Just then coming down the second story hallway of the UN was Saudi Arabia’s representative / charge d’affaires, Abdullatif Sallam. “Ask him something,” it was suggested to Inner City Press. As a softball, Inner City Press asked, “What about Saudi Arabia’s role in the Somalia negotiations” — a process that like that in Darfur excludes the armed insurgents, but which has nonetheless been repeatedly praised by the UN. “It is not good,” the Saudi said enigmatically.
Moments later he doubled back and whispered in the Sudanese Ambassador’s ear. “Saudi Arabia denied it has been providing weapons in Somalia,” was the statement that emerged. Thou dost protest too much?
Footnote: the UN’s own press release about Wednesday’s Security Council resolution on Sudan says that 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur. Since many knowledgeable sources use the figure of 200,000 and controversy obtained to the UN’s John Holmes raising the figure to 300,000, one wonders where this 400,000 comes from — inflation?