AFP misquoted UN chief Ban Ki Moon - How a translation error led to an international incident - UN chief clarifies erroneous reports re Sudan unity
From Foreign Policy.com by Colum Lynch, Tuesday, 02 Feb 2010 - 4:16 PM:
On Saturday morning [30 January 2010], Ban Ki-moon appeared to be breaking with five years of standing U.N. policy toward Sudan, telling two French news agencies in an interview that he would try to prevent Africa's largest country from splitting into two nations in a 2011 referendum on independence for southern Sudan. "We'll work hard to avoid a possible secession," the wire service Agence France Presse reported him saying.
Ban's remarks were little noted in Washington, but they have set off a major international incident in Sudan, prompting Sudan's southern leaders to accuse the secretary-general of interfering in the South's decision to determine its own political future. Southern Sudan's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, wrote a letter this morning [Tuesday, 02 February 2010] to Ban, saying his published remarks constituted "an erroneous description of the U.N.'s role as a guarantor" of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended one of Africa's bloodiest and longest civil wars, and offered southerners the right to vote on independence in January 2011. "I'm sure it was not your intention to depict the U.N.'s role in this manner," the letter reads.
Ban told the French reporters that he favors a unified Sudan, saying, "We will try to work hard to make this unity attractive." But he never said he would actively work actively to oppose it. AFP apparently mistranslated the English language interview in its first French version of the story, and then repeated the mistake in English. The actual quote was "Then we will work very closely -- we will have to work very closely -- not to have any negative consequences coming from this potential or possible secession."
The problem is that the story, which first appeared on the wires in French Saturday morning [30 January 2010] and in English in the early afternoon, has played out over the past three days in the international press, getting picked up by news agencies like the BBC and the Financial Times. The new head of the U.N.'s mission in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, has been on the phone with Salva Kiir during the past 24 hours trying to assure him Ban was misquoted. The U.N., meanwhile, only issued its first public denial this afternoon [Tuesday, 02 February 2010]:"In order to clarify erroneous reports about remarks attributed to the Secretary-General concerning Sudan, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General would like to reaffirm the Secretary-General's position, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the United Nations mandate in Sudan.Note this copy of a comment posted at the article:
The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to "make unity attractive" as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum. In this connection, he made clear that that the United Nations would work to avoid any potential negative consequences following next year's referendum.PERMMEMBER 10:56 PM ET February 3, 2010How attractive?- - -
Was this really a translation error? Or did BKM have it right?
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) commits the parties in para 1.5.5 to:
"Design and implement the Peace Agreement so as to make the unity of the Sudan an attractive option especially to the people of South Sudan."
It's an odd concept for a peace agreement that leads to a referendum on secession...
Any suggestion that the United Nations may have taken a position that may prejudge the outcome of such a referendum is incorrect."
UN Issues Statement Clarifying World Body's Position on Sudan
From Xinhua, Wednesday, 03 February 2010 2010, 05:59:28, Web Editor: Wang Wenwen:The United Nations issued a statement on Tuesday [02 February 2010] clarifying the world body's position concerning Sudan's unity over an anti-"secessionist" remark by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that a news outlet reported, which compelled protesters and stirred up emotions and criticism.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky issued a statement Tuesday here at the UN Headquarters in New York to "clarify erroneous reports," in which he reiterated in the statement that the UN chief "made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to 'make unity attractive' as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum."
"The spokesperson for the secretary-general would like to reaffirm the secretary-general's position, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the United Nations mandate in Sudan," the statement said.
It was reported in a joint interview with French news media that Ban had said that "we'll work hard to avoid a possible secession."
A later version of the AFP story on Tuesday left the word secessionist out.
"The basic point as I said, in the statement, any suggestion that the UN should take a position that should prejudge an outcome is incorrect," UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq said here at UN Headquarters at a daily press conference.
"(They) did not use the quotes that were attributable to him," Haq said.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) separatists in the south and the national government in the north, brought the end to a decades long civil war, in which at least 2 million people were killed, 4 million others uprooted and 600,000 more forced to flee across the country's borders.
"The Agreement must be implemented in spirit as well as the letter if the immense work undertaken is to be sustainable," the secretary-general said in his report last October, calling on both sides to boost their level of cooperation.
UN Secretary-General on Sudan—High-Level Meeting in Addis Ababa
From United Nations – Office of the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General (NEW YORK) Wednesday, 03 February 2010, via African Press Organization (APO) -
Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General on Sudan—High-Level Meeting in Addis Ababa:
In order to clarify erroneous reports about remarks attributed to the Secretary-General concerning Sudan, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General would like to reaffirm the Secretary-General’s position, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the United Nations mandate in Sudan.- - -
The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to “make unity attractive” as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum. In this connection, he made clear that that the United Nations would work to avoid any potential negative consequences following next year’s referendum.
Any suggestion that the United Nations may have taken a position that may prejudge the outcome of such a referendum is incorrect.
SOURCE: United Nations – Office of the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General
Reaction to Ban Ki-moon Secession Statement
Report from SRS - Sudan Radio Service, Wednesday, 03 February 2010:(Asmara/Khartoum) - There have been mixed reactions to the statement by the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that the UN and the AU will work hard to avoid the secession of southern Sudan.- - -
Ban Ki-moon made the statement during the AU summit in Addis Ababa over the weekend.
The director of the Peace Building Centre in the Horn of Africa, Dr. Taysir Mohamed Ahmed, has described Ki-moon’s statement as “illogical and meaningless”.
Ahmed spoke to SRS from Asmara, Eritrea on Wednesday.
[Dr. Taysir Mohamed Ahmed]: “This statement was unusual, because the right of self-determination is internationally recognized and it is one of the fundamental rights expressed in the CPA. Secondly, Ban Ki-moon himself comes from a country which seceded from another country, am I right? Then why were they allowed to secede yet it is forbidden for others? Ban Ki-moon would have been better off speaking about the efforts to solve the root causes of the civil war in Sudan since independence, instead of saying they will work to make sure Sudan remains united. So, it was an illogical and meaningless statement.”
Another political analyst reacted with rather less hostility to Ki-moon’s statement.
Taj Al-Sir Makei spoke to SRS from Khartoum.
[Taj Al-Sir]: “As a general idea it is right to think that the UN will work towards avoiding the secession of the south. But the reaction to Ban Ki-moon’s statement was a misinterpretation if people think that he supports the unity of the country. But the issue will be decided upon by the referendum, and the only people who will determine unity or secession are the people of southern Sudan. Personally, I think it was just a point of view indicating that if the south secedes, some other voices will demand the same thing for other parts of Sudan - and this is possible.”
According to the CPA, the people of southern Sudan shall have the right to self-determination through a referendum, at the end of the interim period in 2011, choosing between unity of the Sudan and secession.
UN seeks to calm Sudan row
From the Financial Times by William Wallis in Addis Ababa and Barney Jopson in Juba
Published: February 5 2010 16:23 | Last updated: February 5 2010 16:23The United Nations has no intention of pushing south Sudan to vote one way or the other at next year’s referendum on self-determination, a senior UN official has said, after comments attributed to the UN secretary general sparked a diplomatic storm.News from SRS - Sudan Radio Service 29 Jan 2010 - 03 Feb 2010:
Ban Ki-Moon said in an interview with the French News Agency (AFP) on the sidelines of this week’s African Union summit that the UN would “work hard to make unity [with Khartoum] attractive”, a position potentially pitting it against the wishes of the majority of south Sudanese.
AFP later said it had misquoted the UN chief making a stronger commitment to “prevent secession”. But this was only after the episode had prompted alarm in the government of the semi-autonomous south at the prospect of the UN taking a more proactive approach to such a sensitive issue.
The referendum on self-determination was a key provision of a peace agreement that in 2005 brought a formal end to a 20-year civil war between the north and non-Muslim rebels from south Sudan.
“You cannot change the course of a ship midstream,” said Haile Menkerios, the new UN special representative for Sudan, clarifying the UN position and adding that it was up to the Sudanese to influence the outcome of the referendum. The responsibility of the UN was to ensure the agreement was implemented, he said.
“Helping southern Sudan to build institutions, to build capacity up is an effort the international community must increase. It does not in any way prejudge the outcome of the referendum. Whichever way the decision is going, such an effort would have a positive contribution,” he said.
Relations between the northern Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir, president, and south Sudan have become increasingly tense in the countdown to scheduled elections in April and the referendum due next January.
A majority vote for southern independence is looking likely, but negotiations on sharing oil wealth, demarcating borders, sharing external debt and many other divisive issues are far from complete.
Mr Ban’s reported comments prompted Salva Kiir, president of south Sudan, to write to the secretary general requesting his “confirmation” that the UN’s role as a guarantor of the peace deal was to support its implementation and “a smooth transition post-referendum, regardless of the outcome”.
Luka Biong Deng, minister of presidential affairs in the government of south Sudan, told the Financial Times that the episode had had a positive effect. “It was necessary because it triggered the fundamental question about the mandate of the UN,” he said.
Questions about the south’s chances of success as an independent state have been revived by the controversy, with considerable concern focusing on rising ethnic violence in the region and the continued existence of rival militias outside the southern army and within it.
“It’s good that these things happened now, because otherwise as we move nearer to the referendum some voices will start talking about whether this state is viable or not,” Mr Biong said. “I think the issue of whether the situation is viable or not is our collective responsibility, as the government and the international community.”
He said the southern government had made significant progress in improving security and raising standards of governance, but diplomats and business people in Juba, the southern capital, say more needs to be done.
Some African Union and some UN officials fear a vote for independence could reignite the civil war in Sudan and inspire secessionists elsewhere in Africa.
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