With a much-watched referendum on the horizon in Southern Sudan, a “very tense” situation in Côte d’Ivoire and disputed presidential election results in Haiti, United Nations peacekeepers were working around the clock to prevent very real challenges from destabilizing hard-won gains achieved in their areas of operation, said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy in his quarterly Headquarters press conference today.
“These days are critical in these three missions,” he stressed, turning to Sudan, where the referendum to determine whether Southern Sudan would remain part of the country was still planned for 9 January. Voter registration, now over, had been transparent, “without significant harassment”. Almost 4 million people in the South, 110,000 people in the North and more than 50,000 people outside the country had registered, including in the United States, United Kingdom and Egypt.
The situation in Darfur was “not great”, with continued fighting between the Sudanese National Consensus Forces (SNCF) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). “We keep insisting on having access to all the areas,” he said. On the Doha peace process, an increasing number of groups were expressing interest in joining ongoing talks with the Government, and all significant rebel groups might well have that opportunity.
In Côte d’Ivoire, he said the unexpected turn of events after the presidential election run-off was “far from being sorted out”. The Secretary-General’s statement this morning expressed concern about increased tension, while the international community had recognized Alassane Ouattara as President-elect and called for Laurent Gbagbo to step down. The Secretary-General also had requested that everyone refrain from violence.
Turning to Haiti, another “burning issue”, he said that today marked an important day, with the 4 p.m. deadline for candidates to lodge complaints with the Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP). “We will see this evening where we are with that,” he said, adding that the Secretary-General was working to find a solution to the impasse. The legal process should be transparent, professional and rigorous.
Taking a question on French reports that there was no other possibility than that the strain of cholera in Haiti had been brought in from Nepal, and other reports suggesting that the Peacekeeping Department was unwilling to accept such a possibility, he said finding the source of the outbreak was critical. Other scientific reports, including in the New England Journal of Medicine, had pointed to other sources. “There is no consensus among the scientists on this issue,” he stressed.
The Department was taking the matter seriously, he continued, and had been very transparent in its efforts to determine the source. From day one, peacekeepers, Dominican Republic officials and Haitians themselves had tested the water closest to the peacekeepers’ camp. “All the tests have been negative so far,” he said. Moreover, all soldiers had tested negative for the strain. None of the Nepalese soldiers had been sick. The Department was pushing for the formation of an international panel and was in talks with the World Health Organization (WHO) to that end. “We want to be fully transparent,” he stressed.
Responding to a query on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and whether there were signs that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) would take any actions before Christmas, he said LRA was always more active in the “Christmas period”. “We’re doing our best to protect civilians,” he said. The Department was in contact with Ugandan sources and its missions, especially in Southern Sudan, to ensure full transparency and timely information exchange. Fearing another attack, peacekeepers had reinforced their positions.
Asked what the Department was doing to head off the potential for widespread violence in Côte d’Ivoire, he said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General had spoken to both parties today and yesterday, underscoring the need to avoid violence. The “clear” and “very strong” mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was to protect civilians within its deployment area. Some 460 people had been evacuated last week to Dakar [ Senegal] and Gambia. There were currently 10,000 peacekeepers on the ground and they had a mandate to fulfil.
Taking a query on the role of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and its assessments of various situations, he said the Mission made a statement each time an incident occurred. Events at the Kalma camp had been analysed and would be included in the Mission’s report. However, it could not report on areas to which it had no access or could not gain access in time. He had visited Jebel Marra a month ago and had raised that issue at the highest level. He had been promised more access to that area.
As for his position on whether it was safe for refugees to be returned to Darfur, he said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was monitoring that issue. Two hundred people were coming back and he did not anticipate any harassment of those people.
Asked for details about the international panel being considered for Haiti, he said the Secretary-General could provide more details during his Friday press conference. The idea was to gather the best experts to assess the situation independently with full access to needed information. He expected it to be launched before Christmas.
Taking a question about the role and capacity of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), he said that demonstrations against the Mission had decreased. Many had been instigated to destabilize Haiti ahead of and during the presidential campaign, using the Mission as a scapegoat. However, Haitians had seen what the Mission had accomplished. The five years before the earthquake struck had been good, due in part to the Mission’s help in stabilizing the country. It had been “extremely” useful in ensuring access to cholera treatment centres and in transporting medicines.
As for comments made by Medecins Sans Frontieres that working with MINUSTAH was difficult, he said first that 20 per cent of the support called for in the appeal launched by the Secretary-General and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had been provided. Medecins Sans Frontieres would have access to all tests, and instructions had been given for the Mission to be as collaborative as possible. Indeed, that organization had written to the Department and the Mission now was in full cooperation with it.