UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kenya accused the U. N. secretary-general on Thursday of instigating an investigation of deadly attacks in South Sudan with the “preordained” outcome of blaming the Kenyan commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force, who was fired over events that occurred just three weeks after he assumed the post.
Kenya’s U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau told a news conference that Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was sacked by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as “a scapegoat” for the systemic failures of the U.N. peacekeeping system.
He said the investigation was demanded “by certain current and future members” of the Security Council who wanted to protect their interests during the July attacks in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. He refused to identify them.
The investigation sharply criticized the U.N. peacekeeping force’s response to attacks on a U.N. compound in Juba housing 27,000 displaced people. Over three days in July, at least 73 people were killed, including two Chinese peacekeepers and more than 20 internally displaced people who had sought U.N. protection. The investigators also criticized U.N. peacekeepers for failing to respond to an attack on a private compound just over a kilometer away where U.N. staff, aid workers and local staff were robbed, beaten, raped and killed by armed government soldiers.
Kenya’s Foreign Ministry, expressing “dismay” at Ondieki’s firing and the way the investigation was conducted, announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan and will not contribute to beefing up the force by 4,000 troops.
“Kenya had warned that any unfair or prejudicial action taken on the basis of this investigation would compel Kenya to re-evaluate completely its engagement in South Sudan,” Kamau said. “The secretary-general, in his lame-duck season, seems to have found the courage that has eluded him throughout his tenure by choosing to ignore Kenya’s plea.”
Ban’s 10 years as U.N. chief ends on Dec. 31 and Antonio Guterres will take over as secretary-general on Jan. 1.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence since shortly after gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011. Civil war broke out in 2013 when government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by his former vice president Riek Machar, who is a Nuer. Tens of thousands have been killed, more than 2 million displaced, and despite an August 2015 peace agreement, fighting has continued.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected Kamau’s accusations, saying there was “no preordained conclusion” to the investigation led by retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert.
He said the investigators looked at “leadership, command decisions taken on that day,” and the secretary-general fired Ondieki on the basis of their findings, which “deeply distressed” him.
“The decision to ask for his removal is an initial decision,” Dujarric said. “Other decisions might be taken, but obviously the secretary-general stands by the report that Mr. Cammaert did and the way it was done.”
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said “there is, of course, the system-wide accountability. We all have a degree of responsibility.”
As for the firing of Ondieki, he said, “I don’t want to add salt to the wound. I think that conclusions were irrefutable.”
Ladsous spoke to reporters after briefing the Security Council at a closed meeting.
A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the session was private, said the United States proposed a press statement welcoming the report and the U.N.’s transparency, but there was no agreement because China was not willing to accept any reference to the report.
In the attacks on the U.N. compound, the report said confusing senior leadership and the lack of leadership on the ground, where the Chinese battalion commander had been appointed as the incident commander, “contributed to incidents of poor performance among the military and police contingents at UN House.”
This included “at least two instances in which the Chinese battalion abandoned some of its defensive positions” and an “inadequate” performance by Nepalese police to stop looting by some displaced people and control the crowd, it said.
Kamau said “the sources used to inform the investigation, according to our information, were people who were … in the direct line of command and related colleagues to the force commander.
“These individuals, who had been in position years and months before the force commander arrived, have reason to miscue information in a manner that protects them and apportions blame elsewhere,” he said.
Kamau said “the investigation could not and should not have been just about the force commander.”
Instead, the investigation should have centered on response to events, the failure of the peacekeeping system, and the need for collective responsibility and accountability from the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York to the joint operations command at the U.N. mission in Juba, Kamau said.
Associated Press writer Michael Astor contributed to this report from the United Nations.
This version corrects to say the Kenyan commander was fired over events that took place just three weeks after he assumed the post.