- By Colum LynchColum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. He previously wrote FP’s Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He was also the silver medal recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for a three-part series documenting the U.N.’s systemic failure to protect civilians in Darfur, Sudan. Colum’s investigations have uncovered an American spy operation in Iraq, Russia’s monopoly of the $1 billion-a-year U.N. aircraft leasing market, and a Chinese diplomatic campaign to silence U.N. investigators scrutinizing Chinese arms deals in Africa. His deep digs into the U.N. bureaucracy have exposed sexual misconduct by U.N. blue helmets from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and documented monumental dysfunction in the U.N. office charged with rooting out misconduct and corruption. He now devotes his reporting chops to documenting President Donald Trump’s efforts to reorder the international system. Born in Los Angeles, Colum received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. Before moving to FP, Colum reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. He has appeared frequently on national news programs, including the Lehrer NewsHour, as well as on MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC.
The U.N. has placed as many as half a dozen security guards on administrative duty pending an investigation into their involvement in a violent brawl on Friday with the security detail for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.N. sources told Turtle Bay.
The melee began after the Turkish prime minister was blocked by U.N. security guards as he sought to walk from a meeting room outside the General Assembly hall to the General Assembly chamber, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was preparing to deliver his historic speech announcing plans to declare its bid for membership in the United Nations as a state.
The brawl, which landed at least one U.N. official in the hospital with badly bruised ribs, involved a misunderstanding over the route Erdogan and his entourage took to reach the General Assembly, officials said. The exit they were trying to proceed through, according to U.N. officials and sources close to the Turkish delegation, didn’t actually lead to the General Assembly. But Erdogan and his security staff insisted on pressing ahead.
It remains unclear exactly what happened next, but a Turkish journalist, Kahraman Haliscelik, of Turkish Radio Television (TRT), said two of his colleagues, who were traveling with the Prime Minister, claimed that U.N. guards threatened "to stop them with force," and that the two sides began pushing. "There was some physical contact with the prime minister and so that set off the Turkish security" agents, Haliscelik said.
Haliscelik also said that later that afternoon, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon walked across the street of the U.N. headquarters to the Turkish mission, where Erdogan was holding a meeting with former U.S President Bill Clinton. "The secretary general went over to apologize for the incident," he said.
U.N. officials, however, provided few details on the incident and did not even identify Turkey as the country that was involved in the fight. Martin Nesirky, Ban’s top spokesman, said that Ban had indeed met with Erdogan but declined to say whether Ban had apologized or not.
Nesirky said there had been "some unfortunate misunderstanding" between U.N. security and members of an unnamed delegation on Friday, but that these differences have "been satisfactorily resolved. Necessary action has been taken, including looking at what happened and trying to establish precisely what happened to help avoid such misunderstandings in the future."
There remained considerable confusion over the extent of the fighting, including whether a second round of fighting erupted later in the day, when Erdogan and his entourage met with Abbas. It remains unclear how many officers were injured and whether they were hurt in the initial incident or during Erdogan’s meeting with Abbas.
But the U.N.’s response to the incident has infuriated U.N. rank and file security guards, according to several U.N. sources, who claim that the Turkish security agents have bullied their way around the Turtle Bay headquarters during the General Assembly session.
Shortly after the incident, the U.N.’s security chief, Gregory Starr, who formerly served as the U.S. State Department’s security chief, suspended several police officers involved in the fight until an investigation has been carried out.
The officers’ staff union objected to the decision, and pressed Starr to place them on "administrative duties (plain clothes, no weapons…) in keeping with due process," according to an email the U.N. staff sent to Starr. Starr agreed.
The email, which was written by the second vice president of the U.N. Staff Union, Timothy J. Kennedy, and obtained by Turtle Bay, said the "entire Security and Safety Service has been dealing with the aggressive nature of the security apparatus of this particular detail all week long. It has shoved many officers, fraudulently utilized ministerial ID’s for access, and assaulted at least one of our officers (previously, as well as today). I have advised our officers who’ve been injured and/or assaulted to make police reports to the 17th [precinct], and have themselves checked at the hospital; as well as take picture of their injuries."
After the first altercation, Erdogan, after being spirited back to his mission by his security guards, finally made for the second half of Abbas’s speech with his delegation. This time, U.N. security let him pass. "They looked very stressed," said a diplomat who saw the Turks take their seats in the General Assembly hall.
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