15 JULY 2008

While the Secretary General took a positive step forward on Darfur by appointing an experienced Special Representative from the region as AV-U.N. Chief Mediator for Darfur, he was stuck in track while about to take another step forward in enhancing the credibility of the peacekeeping mission.

First the good part. Djibril Yipene Bassole, Niger's Minister of Foreign Affairs, served for seven years between 2000 - 2007 as Minister for Security, playing a key behind-the-scenes role in patching up inter-regional differences, including a peace deal among conflicting parties in the Cote d'Ivoire known as the Ouagadougou agreement. His prompt decision to be based in El-Fasher reflects a determined commitment - to devote his full energy and attention to reaching a viable practical settlement. An announcement that futile "envoys" Jan Eliasson and Salim Salim "will remain available for advice and engagement as required" -- as stated by a Headquarters press communique -- was a harmless diplomatic nicety.

The bad news is entitled "Major General Emmanuel Karake Karenzi." A Deputy Force Commander of the U.N. Peacekeeping force there, he was charged by a Spanish magistrate in February with responsibility in the killings of thousands of Hutus during the ruthless mutual massacres of the mid-nineties. The ruling (mostly Tutsi) government of Rwanda, which contributed 3,000 troops, would like a renewal of his contract when it expires in October. That issue received due attention when reported by the Washington Post's highly regarded U.N. Correspondent Colum Lynch.

Wisely, the Secretary General withheld decision pending further consideration. But he is clearly under pressure from many sides. Instead of feeling embarrassed and fielding a substitute, the Rwanda government says that the charges are baseless and threatens to pull its troops, roughly a third of the currently available force. Along the same wavelength was Jendayi Frazer, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa who urged the Secretary General and the outgoing Peacekeeping chief to, generally, listen to the Rwandans. However, Ambassador Khalilzad indicated that the U.S. position "was not monolithic." Ric Grenell, the solid Spokesman who served with three ambassadors to the U.N., pointed out, quite rightly, that it was made clear to the Secretary General that it was his decision "and we will not stand in the way of what the U.N. thinks is best."

Obviously, Secretary General Ban is in the best position to ascertain what is best for an already beleaguered U.N. mission. He had announced Darfur as a priority the moment he took over in January 2007, although the choice of envoys and representatives in Sudan and Darfur -- as well as the overall approach -- ended up widening rather than limiting the conflict. Clearly, most factors leading to further deterioration are beyond his control. Equally clearly, there are specific questions in which he has a major say. Having finally found a capable experienced African from a nearby country, a conciliatory helpful country, it will be a great pity to waste his efforts by eroding the credibility of the peacekeeping force. How could you claim to protect Darfurians from massacres if your second-in-command is accused of committing them?!

Here we have to raise a question to outgoing amateur peacekeeper Jean-Marie Guehenno: how come he approved the appointment in the first place, putting the Secretary General, the U.N. and that mission into a vulnerable position? How come that Frequent Flyer at U.N. and Peacekeeping expense did not make a serious effort to find out about the Deputy Force Commander of a crucial mission? He must have had an idea about the Human Rights Watch protest last August - including an official letter to U.N. Headquarters, about General Karenzi's involvement in the Congo's Kisangani battles "where both sides showed blatant disregard for the lives of civilians." He must have heard about an indictment last February by Spanish magistrate Fernando Marles against 40 Rwandans including General Karenzi for "reprisals killings" against Hutus including the "elimination" of populations in Nyakinama and Mukingo.

The Secretary General may be well advised to await the arrival of new Peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy to review the contractual status of the controversial General by October. That would give him some "time out" to cool tensions and possibly give the Rwandan government space to reconsider its insistence on placing its troops in an embarrassing corner.

In a way, in the mind of the general public, today's Darfur is yesterday's Rwanda. Those of us who followed closely the human cruelties of 1994 know that there were millions of victims, a very few heroes and many, many villians on all sides. Innocent Tutus and Hutus were overtaken by thugs on all sides. Some group's villian could be another group's hero. However, "reprisal killings" were never part of U.N. peacekeeping vocabulary.

The continued presence of General Emmanuel Karake Karenzi in a leadership command post at U.N. mission in Darfur will easily open that mission to accusations by any dissatisfied party, however irrelevant the claim. It will complicate its role and certainly present a serious hindrance for the newly appointed joint UN/UA Mediator who will need to spend his full time in sorting out already daunting problems. The last thing he would need is an added issue of a massacre within a massacre.

Furthermore, the recent indictment of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir opens another complex controversy. Let us hope that someone in the Secretary General's Office has prepared quickly a practical strategy to deal with it -- both at Headquarters and in the field. Otherwise, poor Darfur would not benefit much from a newly-appointed intermediary as it would suffer from two controversies.