UN envoys take on mission impossible

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters stand around a pickup truck with a mounted weapon in the town of Marea in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 February 2018
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UN envoys take on mission impossible

UNITED NATIONS, United States: They often go by the description of jack of all trades and have a reputation for being thick-skinned, perseverant, experienced and willing to take on a mission impossible.
The men and women who take on the job of UN special envoy to the world’s trouble spots seem to be drawn to the challenge of confronting horrors in places like Syria, Libya or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United Nations has about 20 special envoys, some of whom take on short-term missions, others who plod on for decades.
“It’s a tough job and a bit of a dog’s life,” said a diplomat.
“They get upbraided by one side and then the other, they are the focus of any frustration.”
Some missions may not be dangerous, such as reuniting Cyprus, finding a name for Macedonia that will satisfy Greece or resolving decades of disagreement over the status of Western Sahara, but these can be just as intractable.
“They have to show so much humility and patience and know when to jump at an opportunity to create conditions for dialogue,” the diplomat said.
“It’s like being a master chess player and asking others to move the pieces on the board.”
A UN official, who also asked not to be named, said the envoys are “civil servants — with convictions and a healthy ego.”
For most UN envoys, the job is seen as “a big privilege,” he said.

Success for a peace envoy hinges not just on diplomatic acumen, but also on the willingness of the parties involved and, in some instances crucially, on the support of the big powers at the UN Security Council.
In Colombia, these conditions are all met and UN work to support the peace deal with the FARC rebels is often singled out as an example of a peace mission that is working.
Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, the third UN envoy to take on the Syria file, has been walking a tightrope between Russia and Western countries who are sharply at odds over a peace settlement.
But success for an envoy is not just about ending violence. Containing a crisis or “keeping a lid” can also be considered a diplomatic achievement.
The UN’s top envoys appointed for Libya, Syria or Yemen earn about $12,000 per month, but in exchange they agree to put their personal lives on hold, travel almost constantly and report to UN headquarters on their advances and setbacks.
Candidates to the posts must obtain approval from the five permanent council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and the parties themselves.
Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is stepping down as Yemen envoy at the end of the month, fell out with Houthi rebels, which contributed to the failure of his mediation efforts.
Many envoys have thrown in the towel.
“My dream is to be the last special envoy for Libya,” said Ghassan Salame in an interview with AFP late last year. “I don’t want my role to drag on.”
Some envoys have paid the ultimate price in the job. Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, considered one of the UN’s most gifted emissaries, was killed in a Baghdad attack in 2003.


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 25 April 2019
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.