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UN's Holmes on Somali Guns, Who Will Investigate WHO in Ogaden?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, JULY 24 -- As the Somali Transitional Federal Government, backed by Ethiopian troops, raids a major Mogadishu market and search the compound of non-governmental organizations for guns, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes spoke of road blocks and increased internal displacement.

            "Four hundred thousand fled after the fighting in April and May," he told the Press on Tuesday. "One-third of those had returned, but now that's been reversed in the recent insecurity." Inner City Press asked Holmes about the TFG's pursuit of forcible disarmament and its closure of markets. Video here, from Minute 29:20.

            "Increased insecurity and the closure of all entry roads to the market were to blame for the wind-down of the market, as was rising inflation. Just this past week, the price of sugar has doubled," OCHA said, the TFG troops have been searching for weapons at the main Bakara market for the past 18 days.

            Before that, and still, the TFG and Ethiopian troops are searching the premises of NGOs, including humanitarian relief groups. On June 28 at the UN, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi was asked about his government's June 18 raid on the compound of SAACID-Somalia. Gedi said that all NGOs had been given thirty days to turn in their guns, and then were subject to search, by police and "Ethiopian forces."

      While the government said that 500 AK-47s were found, SAACID-Somalia has said they had only three. Gedi did not resolve this disparity, but said that ten "rifles" are allowed, "for each humanitarian organization or business company or enterprise, not more." Gedi claims that while 80 NGOs have registered themselves and turned in guns, some have hidden "weapons, ammunitions and explosives underground." These were and are explosive allegations.

            Tuesday, the UN's John Holmes said that NGO compounds need protection, "something Ethiopian -- I didn't mean Ethiopian -- TFG or private security." Video here, from Minute 31:07. The question of NGOs' engagement with military forces will be an ongoing focus.

UN delivering health care (allegedly missing polio vaccine not shown)

            On Monday, Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson said to wait until Tuesday to ask Mr. Holmes about humanitarian access to Ethiopia's Ogaden  (just as on Tuesday, she said to wait until Wednesday to ask about the various Department of Peacekeeping Operations scandals, in Congo and Cote d'Ivoire).

            Mr. Holmes said that the New York Times took WFP's Ethiopia director's comment, food cannot get in, out of context. He said that the UN has access to three regions of Ogaden, and is negotiating access to the rest.

     Hours later, the Ethiopian government ordered the Red Cross to leave Ogaden in seven days. Maybe the UN needs to negotiate harder, or speak more clearly, for humanitarian access...

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Holmes about the charges, which the Times said had at least for sources, that World Health Organization and UNICEF funds for polio vaccines were being used to hire Ethiopian military personnel, and the vaccines never distributed. Video here, from Minute 27:39.

  Specifically, the Times reported that

"Mr. Kalif... described a scheme with a United Nations polio program, which was corroborated by two former administrators in the Ethiopian government and a Western humanitarian official, in which military commanders gave prized jobs as vaccinators to militia fighters, and in the end, much of the polio vaccine was never distributed. 'Army commanders are using the polio money to pay their people, who don't pass out the vaccines, so the disease continues and the payments continue,' said Mr. Kalif. 'It's the perfect system.' United Nations officials in Geneva said they did not know whether that was happening, but that they would investigate."

            OCHA's John Holmes on Tuesday said the charges are "not substantiated by WHO or UNICEF." Inner City Press asked, But who will investigate WHO? With the UN Secretariat and DPKO, it is the Office of Internal Oversight Services. With UNDP and UNICEF, it is the Board of Auditors (although UNICEF has yet to produce and make public any management response to the Board of Auditors' report about its North Korea operations). But who investigates WHO?

            "We are looking at it with them," Holmes said, apparently referring to OCHA. It would seem that a credible investigation would need more independence than that. Developing.

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