August 21, 2008
The importance of an “if”
Apologies in advance. This is not going to be very interesting - unless "very interesting" for you includes following the minutiae of Sudanese politics and the journalistic efforts to keep up with it. But it feels good to get it off my chest.
So, it was panic stations this morning when most of Khartoum's Arabic newspapers came out with front page stories saying that Sudan's President Bashir had threatened to expel Darfur's UN/African Union peacekeepers. He would kick them out, said the reports, if the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him.
The stories were based on an interview he did with Al Arabiya TV while on his recent trip to Turkey.
Here is how the UN-funded Miraya FM reported on the interview earlier today:
President Al-Bashir announced that he will ask the UNAMID peacekeeping troops in Darfur to leave the country should the ICC issue an arrest warrant against him as requested by the Court's chief persecutor Moreno Ocampo last July.
Pretty dramatic stuff.
Then somebody had a closer look at what Bashir had actually said. The interviewer asked him whether the peacekeepers would be in danger if the arrest warrant was issued. He answered:
"It's not a threat by the Sudanese government...If we refuse the forces, the secretary general of the United Nations, we'd ask them to leave, we won't target the forces, which are originally African forces."
Note the "if". It basically means, 'We are not threatening the peacekeepers. And, even if we wanted to get rid of them, we wouldn't threaten them, we would just ask them to leave.'
Not so dramatic.
So, you would expect the government to issue a denial, and get back to waiting for the ICC decision.
Except that they haven't. And now the Sudanese Media Centre, an online news service seen as very close to the government, is taking up the original "threatened expulsion" line.
President Warns to Ask Exit of UNAMID if ICC Issues Arrest Warrant
The president held sideline press conference in Istanbul stating that he would go for war if that is necessary to protect sovereignty of the state. Moreover, he said he would ask exit of UNAMID if ICC issued an arrest warrant against him.
So what is going on here? Have they just not got round to issuing a denial yet? Or was it always meant as a dark hint that they might expel the peacekeepers if the arrest warrant comes through? Or is it more a case of 'Well, we didn't say that, but it's quite a dramatic line and should shake the UN up a bit so we'll stick with it for now?' Is this what it was like covering the Kremlin back in the days of the cold war?
Who knows? And who cares? And is anyone still reading this article anyway? If you are, and you are bored to tears, I did warn you.
By the end of the day, the UN held a meeting to discuss its response to a threat against it that was never actually made. A classic case of a story becoming true over time.
Sudan: UNAMID in talks to assess Al-Bashir's threat to expel it
Miraya FM on 21 August - The spokesperson of the United Nations African Mission in Sudan, Nur-al-Din Al Mazni told Miraya FM that the leadership of the mission is still holding meetings to assess the situation after president Al-Bashir threatened to expel its troops from Darfur.
So at last it has happened. The misrepresentation of the original interview has become so widespread that it has now become fact. Sudan's foreign minister has just done an interview explaining Bashir's threat to expel UNAMID.
Sudanese warning on peacekeepers a "political message" - foreign minister says
Al-Ahdath on 22 August - The minister of foreign affairs, Deng Alor, has refused to describe President Umar al-Bashir's threat to expel the hybrid [AU-UN] force as a declaration of war saying it was a political message to the international community. He further pointed out that procedures for declaring war were stipulated in the constitution.
Does this mean that UNAMID will now actually have to go if the arrest warrant is issued?
Posted by aheavens at August 21, 2008 6:17 PM