Wednesday, February 15, 2012

UN Official Slams Sierra Leone Ahead of National Elections

Citizens of Recovering Country See Astonishing Action
as Meddling at Best, Regime Change Attempt at Worst

Mysterious Leak and Allegations of Bias

A controversial United Nations official stationed in Sierra Leone who appears to have used his position to aid opposition figures ahead of national elections set for this November has left the country, cutting short his stay in the West African nation by a year.

Moreover, in what may be an unprecedented action, the former envoy, Michael von der Schulenburg, asserted in a letter to UN headquarters that the organization's credibility and Sierra Leone "success story" were threatened as a result of "unreasonable and unjustified demands" by the Sierra Leone Government for his early departure and "an effort to remove a potential obstacle [meaning himself] to … manipulating the election outcome" in favor of the incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma.

The existence of the letter came to light after it was leaked to Reuters, which published a story about the letter on Monday. The content and style of the story--click here to read it--somewhat resembles a news release rather than a news article, making Reuters look more like a public relations service than a press agency for disseminating the piece.

The leaker's identity has not been made public as of this writing.

Both the UN and the Sierra Leone President have denied that von der Schulenburg was pushed out of his job. Click here for a relevant report.

Elections in Sierra Leone this November come a decade after the end of an 11-year civil war that left over 50,000 dead. The conflict came to an end in 2002, after a British military intervention practically supplanted a weak and ineffective UN peacekeeping mission.

Although UN troops withdrew from Sierra Leone in 2005, the world body retains a 200-person mission with a mandate to help ensure the forthcoming election is peaceful and credible. President Koroma will be challenged by an estimated 10 candidates, including his main opponent, a former military leader, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.

No Stranger to Controversy

Foreign Confidential™ has learned that the number of meetings that von der Schulenburg held with Bio and other opposition figures was unusually high. Informed sources in Freetown say the envoy's anti-Government bias was well known among expats and foreign diplomats.

"He [von der Schulenburg] was most undiplomatic in the way he went about backing Bio," a source says.

Von der Schulenburg, who worked in what the UN describes as its "peacebuilding" division, is no stranger to controversy--and to controversial letter writing. In December 2000, he resigned as Director of the Division for Operations and Analysis of the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP). In his letter of resignation he severely criticized the head of the UNDCP's parent agency, accusing his superior of being "the worst manager," guilty of "taking irrational decisions" and of turning the UNDCP into "an organization that has increased its international visibility while at the same time is crumbling under the weight of promises that it is unable to meet under a management style that has demoralized, intimidated and paralyzed its staff." (Among the "promises" that upset van der Schulenburg for allegedly having had been made but not kept: a 1997 pledge to Afghanistan's drug dealing Taliban regime for $250 million in "alternative work program" funding. Apparently, von der Schulenburg would have been happy to have seen the monsters get the money.)

The fact that the 24-page "PERSONAL/CONFIDENTIAL" resignation letter has long been available online has fueled speculation that von der Schulenburg was responsible for leaking his Sierra Leone letter to Reuters.

More recently, von der Schulenburg has been formally accused of physically abusing a staff member; and he has been dogged by persistent rumors that during an assignment in Iran he was noticeably sympathetic to the Islamist regime--whilst inappropriately exporting Persian carpets.

Related Video: Sierra Leone Hosts Africa's
Only American-Owned Foreign Trade Zone