U.N. Threatens to Pull Out Sudan Auditors

The U.N.'s internal watchdog agency has threatened to withdraw its auditors from Sudan to protest restrictions placed on it by the U.N. envoy to the troubled African nation, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services, known as OIOS, has been prevented from carrying out a thorough examination of the nearly $1 billion peacekeeping budget for the country, according to the internal e-mail memo.

The threat comes as the United Nations plans to expand its Sudan operation and take over peacekeeping duties in its conflict-wracked Darfur region, site of one of the world's most serious humanitarian crises. It also comes in the midst of a major reform effort and greater scrutiny of U.N. peacekeeping missions with a goal of more openness and accountability.

CountryWatch: Sudan

Undersecretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius said in the memo, obtained this week, that OIOS auditors "have not been able to fulfill any audits during the last three months" as a result of instructions from U.N. envoy Jan Pronk to staff of the U.N. Mission in Sudan.

She said she had informed Secretary-General Kofi Annan on May 16 that she would be instructing the auditors to prepare to withdraw from the U.N. Mission in Sudan by May 31 because of Pronk's interference.

Bahaa Elkoussy, a spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan, said Wednesday that Pronk "does not comment on internal memos."

Later Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Pronk was being recalled to to New York and would discuss the issue with senior U.N. officials. As a result of some new steps Pronk has taken, OIOS has informed the U.N. that it would not withdraw the auditors for now, he said.

"We want to see this issue resolved quickly so that OIOS can carry out its valuable auditing work in Sudan," he said.

Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno told AP on Tuesday "it's very important ... that the mission sees the auditors as a help."

The U.N. Mission in Sudan currently has 10,500 troops, international police and civilians who are responsible for monitoring a January 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between Sudan's mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. But the mission is expected to undergo a dramatic expansion later this year when the U.N. takes over peacekeeping duties in Darfur from the African Union.

Pronk's main reason for coming back to New York is to discuss "the future direction of the mission given the imminent massive increase in the mission's workload as a result of the added planning for a U.N. mission in Darfur," Dujarric said.

Pronk, a former Dutch minister, has been Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative in Sudan since June 2004. He has played key roles in promoting north-south peace and getting the government and a key rebel group in Darfur to sign their recent peace deal as well as in highlighting the violence in Darfur where about 180,000 people have died — mostly through disease and hunger — and 2 million have fled their homes.

U.N. staffers in Sudan became distrustful of the auditors after two staffers involved in purchasing for the peacekeeping operation were put on paid leave in January pending completion of an investigation into fraud and mismanagement, according to recent U.N. documents seen by The Associated Press. Many felt their rights would not be protected during the audits and that prior judgments had been made about their work.

In a May 21 memo to staffers superseding all previous instructions, Pronk reiterated that under U.N. rules all staff must fully cooperate with OIOS, including providing access to documents and any explanations requested by the auditors, according to U.N. documents seen by AP.

The auditors, in return, will make clear whether a staffer is being asked about an audit or an investigation and will allow staffers to correct and comment on draft audits and request "a mutually signed summary record of an interview," Pronk said in the document.