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Blog Post Causes Diplomatic Row

Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006

For what must be the first time in history, a blog has figured prominently in an international diplomatic incident.

U.N. envoy Jan Pronk was expelled from Sudan today after he reported setbacks for Sudan's armed forces on his personal blog , the New York Times reports:

Sudan's action against him was apparently provoked by an entry he made in his personal blog — www.janpronk.nl — last weekend that said Sudan's armed forces had suffered two major defeats with extensive casualties against rebels in Darfur in the past six weeks. He also reported that generals had been cashiered, that morale had sunk and that the government had collaborated with the feared Janjaweed Arab militias, which are held responsible for pillaging villages and killing and raping their residents.

The Sudanese armed forces on Thursday cited the blog entry in calling Mr. Pronk a threat to national security and asking that he be expelled.

The fact that one of its top officials has put sensitive findings in a personal blog has embarrassed the United Nations and put its officials in an awkward position. When the matter arose Friday, United Nations officials resisted rebuking Mr. Pronk for the practice for fear that it would appear to be a vote of no confidence in the mission, rather than just in his professional lapse.

The post the Times quotes as causing the row is here. The Times story implies that the Sudanese government was most upset by Pronk's characterization of the morale and recent battle record of the Sudanese armed forces. But other parts of Pronk's post seem as if they would be much more likely to upset the Sudanese government. Especially what he writes about the Sudanese government's intentions in the peace process. For example:

. . . the Government is taking some initiatives itself. But these seem more oriented at a strengthening of its own position by means of a divide and rule policy than by the wish to have a strong and fully representative partner in negotiations that should lead to a sustainable solution, undisputed by a third party.

Of course, this is obvious, but not the kind of thing a diplomat is supposed to say about a government with which he is negotiating, much less write in a blog.

What to make of this episode? Is it a significant event in the history of diplomacy or in the history of the Internet? Or both?

Of course, that question seems frivolous in light of the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It's too early to tell how Pronk's expulsion will affect prospects for an end to the violence there. But in bringing more clarity to the true intentions of the Sudanese government, perhaps it will help.