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Somali Diplomat Denounces UN's Warlord Payments, Blackhawk Down - TFG Connection Confirmed

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 27 -- The UN Security Council on Friday heard a closed-door briefing from Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin about his country's continued military presence in Somalia. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Mesfin about reports that UN humanitarian aid has been hindered by the Transitional Federal Government, which Ethiopia installed atop the country in December.

            Mr. Mesfin denied that the TFG or "our troops" had created obstacles, and noted that TFG Prime Minister Gedi had "the day before yesterday said that humanitarian aid is welcome."

            In an interview appearing in the Times of London on April 27, Gedi is quoted accusing UN agencies "of corruption; of using private airstrips to ship in contraband, weapons and insurgents; of striking cozy deals with warlords and the ousted Islamic Courts regime and pocketing the proceeds. He said the United Nations' World Food Program and other agencies were upset because they had lost power after effectively governing Somalia during its 15 years of civil war and anarchy. 'They want to operate in this country without any control,' he declared. 'They know they can't do that any more . . . Now there's a Prime Minister who knows them too well.'"

            Inner City Press at Friday's noon briefing asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a response:

Inner City Press: In Somalia, the Prime Minister in an interview had said that the UN aid agencies are used to running the country like itís their own fiefdom and that theyíre basically disagreeing with Mr. [John] Holmes in terms of humanitarian access.  So I'm wondering if anyone in the UN system has some response to those statements or what the status is of humanitarian access in Somalia. 

Spokesperson:  Well, according to what I got today, the discussions were good and they were given access.  And the tone was positive on the part of WFP.  

            After some other Inner City Press questions, a statement was handed to Spokesperson:

Spokesperson:  "We can find an answer for you.  And about Somalia, as far as I know, and I see the information I got there, there was a meeting about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.  The meeting was positive.  WFP was given the green light to begin deliveries, which was done.  And basically everything is working now between WFP and TFG.  According to OCHA, the UN has some 200 national and international staff in south central Somalia whose sole aim is to assist the people of that country, including in delivering urgently needed life-saving assistance.  So, the UN humanitarian agencies, which are non-political, do not aspire to enjoy power in Somalia or elsewhere, as was said in an article today."

            Later on Friday, Inner City Press interviewed Idd Beddel Mohamed, the Somali TFG's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, who said:

"The UN agencies used to serve Somalia when there was no government. Now instead of adapting, they still want to dictate terms. The UN hired warlords, paid them in dollars to protect and deliver. The warlords bought more technicals and militias. The UN agencies should not try to address the difference by talking to the media."

            Inner City Press asked him to confirm that the TFG has appointed as Police Chief one of the individuals whom the U.S. was seeking during the incident memorialized in "Blackhawk Down." Yes, he said, it is Col. Aideed (a/k/a Abdi Qaybdiid).

            The worm, as they say, has turned...

Idd Beddel Mohamed at the UN

           While the UN had earlier on Friday announced the re-appointment of Francois Lonseny Fall for another year as the UN's envoy to Somalia, Idd Beddel Mohamed said he hadn't been aware, and said: "Why isn't he in Mogadishu? Let him enjoy Nairobi, and even the beaches of Mombassa." Inner City Press asked whether minorities like the Mushinguli were included in the TFG as required by the "4.5" plan previously alluded to by Lonseny Fall. "They have the ministry of sports!" Idd Beddel Mohamed exclaimed.

 [Under "4.5," each of Somalia's four main clans are supposed to get slightly less than 25% of the posts, with 1/9th for other minorities, such as the ultimate underdogs, the Mushinguli, brought to Somalia from further South in Africa, and long denied their rights, a topic to which we will return.]

   Idd Beddel Mohamed chided Inner City Press for asking Under Secretary General John Holmes about quotes from the TFG President and deputy defense minister, saying that the quotes are just "internet propaganda." When Inner City Press pointed out that the source was Voice of America, Idd Beddel Mohamed replied that Voice of America's "affiliate in Mogadishu is owned by a supporter of these insurgents."

            Before he left the UN, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin pronounced that "the backbone of the terrorists has been completely shattered"  but that a different message gets out, because they have "a wide network globally."

            Who are you going to believe? For now, the UN and Security Council appear to continue to cast their lot with the TFG, despite warnings. Or is the European Commission's warning about war crimes and complicity just "internet propaganda"? We will continue to cover this.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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UN's Holmes "Condemns" Reported Somali TFG Statements, While Withholding Documents

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- The Somali Transitional Federal Government, which relies for its legitimacy on the UN, yesterday told the UN that aid workers will have "unimpeded access" to serve those people fleeing the TFG's shelling of Mogadishu.

            In New York, Inner City Press asked UN humanitarian chief John Holmes what the UN's response has been to two sample statements, by TFG president Yusuf that civilian neighborhoods can be shelled, and by TFG defense official Salad Ali Jeele, that certain clans and sub-clans in Mogadishu need to be exterminated (click here for that).

            Mr. Holmes responded that "the statements you've quoted, I would condemn them utterly." Video here, from minute 35:13.

            Inner City Press asked about the letter which it obtained and reported on April 20 in which TFG Minister for Interior Mohamed Mohamoud Guled wrote to the UN World Food Program that

"It's TFG decision that there will be no food distribution can take place anywhere in Somalia without being inspected and approved by the government. Hence UN agencies and any other organization that is planning to bring any relief to Somalia should submit the documents for the goods before shipment for checkup."

            This letter from the Transitional Federal Government to the WFP was cc-ed to the Somali National Refugee Commission, through which Inner City Press is told the TFG had been saying all aid must flow. Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Holmes said, "I have no information on that particular organization." That might be a problem.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Yusuf

            Prior to Mr. Holmes' briefing, WFP told Inner City Press the following:

Subject: Somalia

From: [WFP Spokesperson]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 6:09 PM

Hi Matthew,  there were talks between the UN and TFG today. Here's a short update, from Peter Goossens, WFP Country director Somalia:

"The talk between the UN and a TFG commission led by the Heath Minister were positive. The TFG will issue a statement on the outcome. We hope that we will from now on be allowed to use any airstrip in Somalia to bring in humanitarian assistance. We also need to see on the ground that we are now allowed to bring that assistance urgently to those most in need, particularly those displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu."

            Tuesday Mr. Holmes said essentially the same thing. However, when asked if any documents could be provided -- the letter from UN Humanitarian Coordinator Eric Laroche, or the above-referenced TFG statement -- Mr. Holmes said only that "I'll look into that, if we can provide you chapter and verse." Ten hours later, no documents had been provided. It's not "chapter and verse" -- it's basic documents about what Mr. Holmes is calling the world's most dangerous for aid workers. Silence doesn't help; silence is consent. Developing...

In Somalia, Understaffed Government Demands to Inspect All UN Aid, At "Anti-Terror" Checkpoints

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 20 -- The UN-supported Transitional Federal Government in Somalia is now hindering the UN's attempts to deliver humanitarian aid. Beyond the shelling of civilian areas, the TFG has blocked UN agencies and the private groups they work with from using air strips, and has demanded to inspect all food and medicine that comes into the country, even though the TFG has nowhere near the manpower for this. This results in a slow-down or stoppage of aid to Somalis.

            In a sample April 9 letter sent to the UN World Food Program, of which Inner City Press has obtained a copy, click here to view, TFG Minister for Interior Mohamed Mohamoud Guled writes that:

"It's TFG decision that there will be no food distribution can take place anywhere in Somalia without being inspected and approved by the government. Hence UN agencies and any other organization that is planning to bring any relief to Somalia should submit the documents for the goods before shipment for checkup."

            Given the resources and focus of the TFG, this threatens to slow or cut off the flow of humanitarian aid to Somalis. Inner City Press is informed that the UN's Eric Laroche, who previously said that the UN should cast its lot with the TFG as the only game in town, has now written to Mr. Guled that the TFG lacks the physical and human capacity to carry out the inspections and that this directive may jeopardize the UN's capacity to deliver assistance. Intimidation, including death threats, that have become routine at TFG militia checkpoints directed at UN and partners particularly from a military group based at the Afgoye junction calling itself the "Anti-Terror Unit."

Somalia today

            The TFG has now denied access to the K50 airstrip and has re-designated  Mogadishu airport as the entry point for Benadir, and Middle and Lower Shabelle.  Also slowing and stopping humanitarian aid, it has proved impossible for the UN to fly a company that will fly to Mogadishu International Airport.

            The TFG has also issued a directive that all implementation and data-gathering be carried out exclusively through the National Refugee Commission (NRC), which will further put into question the independence and impartiality of humanitarian response. That is an issue that Inner City Press raised to Mr. Laroche when he was in New York, click here that story. Mr. Laroche said the time had come to gamble on the TFG, and to judge him if it went wrong. Has that time arrived? And what is the response of belatedly present WFP executive director Josette Sheeran Shiner to the letter from Mohamed Mohamoud Guled hindering food distribution in Somalia?

            UN staffers have said they will meet with the TFG on April 23. The UN Security Council will meet April 24 to discuss Somalia. As the UN's postponed and re-written Rwanda genocide exhibition is slated to go on display, the UN's as well as other parties' roles in what's occurring in Somalia will need to be closely considered. Developing.

As Somali Defense Official Speaks of Extermination, UN and U.S. Dodge War Crimes Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 11 -- As civilian neighborhoods in Somalia are bombed by the Transitional Federal Government, TFG-supporters from the United States to the UN increasingly decline to comment on what's wrought in Mogadishu. Wednesday at UN Headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe to confirm over one thousand deaths and to respond to a quote from TFG defense official Salad Ali Jeele about "exterminating" a rival clan. [Video here, from Minute 6:50 through 8:56, and see below.]

            Ms. Okabe declined comment on the extermination threat, and said that "death toll statistics are provided by the local authorities." But what if it is the local authorities who are doing much of the killing?

            Already officials in Europe have expressed concerns about their possible complicity in war crimes in Mogadishu. These concerns must be sharpened by the following remarks by the EU-supported TFG's Salad Ali Jeele:

"We have succeed in winning the political aspect, what remains now is the force implication... Very soon people will flee from this town , but I wonder where they will flee to. Whether it is here to the north side or to Galgaduud. Since people cannot reconcile and come to terms with each other it is best to forcefully expel [them] from the city... We are now in the final stages. You have seen what happened in the last four days' onslaught, without doubt who ever has survived that onslaught will be exterminated in the one to follow soon."

            In terms of the UN system's continuing engagement, only earlier this week, the UN World Food Program issued a press release calling on the TFG to, at least with pirates, become tougher. The UN's humanitarian chief for Somalia, Eric Laroche, was last heard to urge unequivocal support for the TFG. Now the planned reconciliation conference has been delayed for at least a full month. Much can happen in thirty days. Salad Ali Jeele was previously quoted, by a UN-affiliated service, as denying the UN's own experts' report that the TFG was violating the arms embargo then in place.

Somalia '07 -- shades of RTML?

            Tuesday at the UN, Inner City Press got a chance to ask U.S. Ambassador Wolff a question about the weapons in Somalia, video here, from Minute 6:49:

Inner City Press: On this report, that the U.S. allowed Ethiopia to buy weapons from North Korea in January '07, I think your predecessor has said if it's true, this -- you know, he disfavored that, that it would have violated previous sanctions.  Do you have any views on whether that took place?  And if so, why it would not violate the sanctions?

Ambassador Wolff:  Well, I've seen the reports on this.  I don't have any additional information to offer.  We believe that the resolution should be adhered to.  And from my reading of the accounts, it's the responsibility of the Ethiopian government to adhere by that resolution.

            But the underlying reporting indicates that the U.S. was aware of the ship heading to Ethiopia, in violation of the U.S.-sponsored sanctions on North Korea's arms sales, and that the U.S. did nothing.  State Department spokesman Scott McCormack on Monday answered similarly, "I'm not going to have any particular comment on the details of that story." Earlier on Monday, he had said that "my objective here isn't to criticize the Transitional Federal Government." Maybe it should be...

Bombing of Civilians Justified by UN-Supported Somali President, War Crimes Questions Raised

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 9 -- When are war crimes accepted, and who gets to decide?  In Mogadishu last week, hundreds of civilians were killed when Ethiopian troops and the Transitional Federal Government fired into built-up sections of the city. In seeming violation of the laws of war, TFG president Abdullahi Yusuf has said "any place from which a bullet is fired (at us) we will bombard it regardless of whoever is there."

            Monday at UN Headquarters, Inner City Press asked the spokesman for Ban Ki-moon to respond to the quote, and to the bombing by the TFG and others of civilian areas in Mogadishu. The spokesman, Farhan Haq, pointed out that "a number of bodies, including the Security Council, have recognized the TFG."

   In response to Inner City Press' follow-up question, Mr. Haq said that "the UN is against bombing of civilian areas... across the board." What have the UN's Francois Lonseny Fall, or perhaps more pertinently, Political Affairs chief Lynn Pascoe, said on the topic? "I can check," Mr. Haq said. Video here, from Minute 20:53. Also needing update is the UN's humanitarian chief on Somalia Eric Laroche's statement that the TFG is "the only way to go."

            The inquiry takes place in the wake of reporting on a European Union expert's April 2 e-mail warning to Eric van der Linden, the chief EU official for Kenya and Somalia, that:

"there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."

            While the UN has yet to send its own blue helmeted peacekeepers to support or replace the African Union force, the UN has supported the TFG even as its compliance with the Transitional Federal Charter has come into question, concerning the exclusion (and now bombing) of certain clans and sub-clans. Even following the EU warning, the UN continues to call on the TFG to take more aggressive action.

            Responding by press release to the freeing of two ships and their crews, UN World Food Program Somalia Country Director Peter Goossens called, blithely some say, for a more aggressive stance by the Transitional Federal Government. On WFP's web site, Mr. Goossens is quoted that "the threat of piracy however is still very much alive in Somali waters and WFP urges the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Puntland authorities to curb this menace."

Somalia: tsunami or TFG?

            Others are making excuses for the intentional bombing of civilians areas. Voice of America found an expert, former US ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, to say that " ďI think that in this part of the world war tends to be particularly brutal. And I think itís going to be extremely difficult to prove that there were war crimes taking place as such. I think this tends to be more the way things are done." Particularly on the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, this type of relativism is troubling.

            Compliance with Security Council resolutions, even by their sponsors, has become relative as well.  The U.S., it emerges, allowed Ethiopia to buy weapons and tank parts from North Korea months after the U.S.-sponsored sanctions on North Korea. Asked for Ban Ki-moon's reaction, spokesman Farhan Haq declined to comment, saying that since these are Security Council sanctions, the Council members should be asked. When it was pointed out that Mr. Ban has chosen to comment on compliance with the Security Council resolution barring arms imports into Lebanon, Mr. Haq shrugged. It is apparently a matter of discretion.

            U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer was in Baidoa over the weekend. She met with Abdullayi Yusuf and was quoted by Reuters that "'I think that everybody used excessive force when you hear the number killed,' Frazer said, but blamed insurgents for starting the fight with mortar attacks from populated areas."

 News analysis: the allowance for war crimes and other bending and breaking of laws in Somalia appears based on the equation of the Union of Islamic Court with the Taliban, or more explosively, Al Qaeda. In late December when Ethiopian troops crossed the border and drove on Mogadishu, the Security Council did nothing. When in January the U.S. fired missiles at supposed Al Qaeda hide-outs in southern Somalia, little was said. Now the UN-supposed Transitional Federal Government, through its president, says openly they will fire into civilians areas if the residents don't themselves expel the Courts or insurgents.

   Meanwhile the UN counts and decries those fleeing Mogadishu. The World Food Program, in one of its first communications under new executive director Josette Sheeran Shiner, fresh in from the U.S. State Department, blithely issues a press release calling on the TFG to crack down on pirates, click here to view. What if the pirates move into residential neighborhoods? Bombs away, apparently...

Transcript of TFG President Yusuf Q&A, March 21, 2007, see esp. Q&A 5 and 6

1. Q.  It is been reported that the government instigated the current fighting.

A. The man who made that accusation who claims he is speaking on behalf of a clan and that his house was attacked is well known and he works directly with the Islamic Courts. Since he collaborates with the courts and the courts are the ones who are killing the people and conducting terrorism amongst the people and who are destructive, it does not matter how educated he is, it doesn't matter how famous he is, it does not matter from what clan he is: Society should be protected from that kind of man (arrested/eliminated?) because he will not contribute anything to the community except  trouble and destruction. 

2. Q. But Mr. President he is saying we were a clan that was meeting just like the other clans meet?

A: Son, he is lying! We know the names of the guys he was meeting with at that time. They are one family (sub-clan).   They cannot even speak on behalf of a sub-clan. They are individuals and we know the one he is having the meeting with. The name Hawiye is being used as a cover but it does not exist. I believe you have asked the Prime Minister about this ( i.e. Hawiye) and you know from which clan the Prime Minister comes from (i.e. he is Hawiye).

3.  Q: One can ask, can the president draw people closer to each other now that there is on going fighting everywhere and the people are fleeing, many are wounded so how will they come (to Mogadishu for the peace conference)?

  A: The facts are well known. It is the guys I have named who are causing the instability and we are working to ensure they can never again cause instability (threat?). This city should be secure when the conference (reconciliation conference scheduled for April 16 in Mogadishu) is to be held. That is the transitional government's responsibility.

4. Q: So have you been overpowered? Reports say that it is the government troops and the peacekeepers that are being dragged. Were you overpowered?

A: First of all have you ever fought in a war?

5. Q: Then who is fighting? Isn't it reported that two sides are fighting?

A: First, I have asked you a question. If there is a battle there will be casualties (deaths), It is possible that every now and then one or the other side looses ground, but we have not been defeated, we will not be defeated God willing and we will eliminate these guys.

6. Q: The government is using artillery to shell civilian areas according to reports, therefore why are you using these artillery?

A: Why shouldn't we use it? They are within the civilian areas. The public should make them (rebels) leave the civilian areas. When those guys leave the civilian areas no harm will come to the civilians. We want the civilians to remove them (rebels) telling them to go away from our midst. It is you (rebels) that are causing us all these troubles. It is the rebels who are the cause of all the troubles and not the government because any place from which a bullet is fired (at us) we will bombard it regardless of whoever is there.

7. Q: Even if civilians are there you are going to bombard it?

A: Yes we will bombard it! Because the civilians should not be used as Human shields. The civilians should get out of there and we have warned the civilians. We said there is fighting going on in those neighborhoods get out of there while the fighting is going on because one of the sides will be made to give up. The civilians have that warning.

8. Q: Mr. President since you have announced that yours is a government of peace, and that you will save the public, if you now say we are going to burn everyone (who opposes us) what do you think of that?

A: It is one side that is initiating the fighting. The instigators will be confronted with fighting. If they hide amongst the civilians there will be collateral damage to the civilians. You need to ask them (rebels) those kinds of questions like why don't you leave the civilian areas and fight the government somewhere else? It is they that you should ask such questions and goodbye!

            But the questions are proliferating. Developing...

 

As Somali Mortars Fly, Ban Ki-moon Waits for April 16 Summit, While Some Clans Are Excluded

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 2 -- As mortars fly in Somalia, now with the involvement of mercenaries, the UN continues to point toward an April 16 summit which most predict will not be inclusive. Alongside the fighting in and flight from Mogadishu, doubts have increased about the Transitional Federal Government's commitment to involvement any of its perceived opponents, or now-disfavored clans.

    Monday at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon about Somalia:

Inner City Press: On Somalia, it was reported that Egyptian Foreign Minister has written to the UN, AU and Arab League, asking for immediate intervention to stop the conflict in Mogadishu.  I wanted to know if you have received that, what your thinking is?

Ban Ki-moon:  On Somalia, during the Riyadh Summit meeting, we had a mini-summit to discuss this issue, which was convened by the Saudi Foreign Minister. It was very useful.  We hope that the Somali government will be able to convene the national reconciliation congress, which is scheduled for April 16th.   The international community should continue to encourage the Transitional Federal Governmentís efforts.  (Click here for video.)

            While sidestepping the request for response to today's fighting in Somalia, it is also unclear what efforts by the TFG are being supported. For more than a month, the UN has been asked, what is being done to encourage the TFG to reach out to its opponents?

Ban Ki-moon on April 2, hoping Mogadishu can hold for a fortnight

            On March 7, Inner City Press submitted questions, including a request for response to a detail critique of the TFG's inclusiveness, to the spokesman of the UN Political Office on Somalia, Ian Steele, and to the address OCHA Online provides for its Somalia coordinator, Eric Laroche. The latter bounced back, and Mr. Steele has yet to respond.  The UNPOS web site, at least its front page, has not been updated since January.

            In the midst of all this is the affable Francois Lonseny Fall. He at least took questions from the rostrum, at the UN on March 14. He said, "4.5 is very important," but only defined it out in the hall. Posts in the Transitional Federal Institutions should be given out equally to the four main clans in Somalia, with an additional "point five" to the remaining, smaller minorities.

            But Inner City Press has received, and provided to UNPOS and then DPA for comment, the following message and list of appointments, which is decidedly top-heavy with one particular clan:

Subj: UN creates a dictator in Somalia while condemning others elsewhere 

From: [Name withheld in this format]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/6/2007 11:32:04 PM Eastern Standard Time

Excellent reports on Somalia and the incompetent role of the UN.  A good question to ask the UN is if they have monitored the basis of the TFG charter i.e. 4.5 power sharing. This power sharing is the result of the UN sponsored meeting that culminated in the formation of the TFG. The TFG's claim to legitimacy is derived solely from the UN's endorsement of that agreement. Did the UN compare the diversity in clans of the current president's staff, appointments to the military, police, secret service, ambassadorships etc. and that of his immediate predecessor Abdiqasim Salad Hassan. The government forces are over 90% Puntland militia members. An op-ed article on one of the Somali websites noted that the appointments to high military, police, security positions etc are almost all from the President's clan. Below is an excerpt from the article...

Military & Police Appointments: Position, Name, Clan Affiliation

1. Chief of Staff of Military Axmed Mahdi Cabdisalaan  Ogaadeen- Darood

2. Chief of  Police Ali Madoobe - Mareehaan - Darood

3. Chief of Staff of Military Abdullaahi Ali Omar (Ina libaaxsankataabte) Majeerteen / Carab Saalax - Darood 

4. Head of National Security Service Col Maxamed Darwiish  Majeerteen- Darood

6. Head of First Division Abdirisaaq Afguduud - Majeerteen - Darood

7. Head of Second Division Abdullaahi Fartaag  Mareehaan

8. Head of Third Division Hiif  Ali Taar  Majeerteen- Darood

9. Head of Fourth Division  Col Abdullaahi Arays  Majeerteen- Darood

10. Head of Sea Port and Airport Mogadishu  Joocaar - Majeerteen -Darood

            On March 14, Inner City Press re-posed these questions and demographics to the spokesman for the UN's Department of Political Affairs. Five days later, this response arrived:

Subj: Qs, & the follow-up on Jan Egeland, thanks 

From: [DPA Spokesman at] un.org

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/19/2007 11:35:03 AM Eastern Standard Time

Matthew, regarding your question as to the UN's position regarding a statement issued on 6 March by a group in Somalia, I've consulted with UNPOS and can give you the following response:

"We have no specific reaction to the statement you refer to, which was dated several weeks ago, but SRSG Fall and other members of the international community have repeatedly expressed the view that an all-inclusive dialogue is essential to peace and stability in Somalia. They continue to encourage the TFG to include all national stakeholders who have renounced violence in the National Reconciliation Congress planned for 16 April in Mogadishu."

            Maybe, just maybe, the April 16 Congress will cure all previous missteps. Meanwhile, the UN has stood by while Ethiopian troops took over, at least temporarily, Mogadishu, while the U.S. bombed in the south and now sends DynCorp mercenaries, and while even the UN-annointed Transitional Federal Government excludes major clans contrary to the "4.5" system that the UN calls important, without really defining. It means that the four major clans each were supposed to get equal numbers of government posts, with the remaining minorities in Somalia getting a "point five" share. It has fallen out of whack, as now helicopters are shot out of the sky. Questions will continue to be asked.

UN's Man in Somalia Says To Embrace and Not Question the Baidoa Government

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Jump in and take a side. That was the message of Eric Laroche, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, speaking to reporters on March 1. Mr. Laroche chided most "international NGOs" for not being where the humanitarian problems are. He urged the media to stop referring to the Transitional Federal Institutions, restored to power by the Ethiopian Army, as a weak government. "Call it the to-be-strong government," he said, adding that "today there is no other alternative to chaos than to support the Institutions."

            Inner City Press asked about a letter from French NGO Action Contre La Faim which decried the UN's blurring of humanitarian needs and "other political agendas." Video here, from Minute 52:24 to 55:20.

            "Are you the one who asked the Secretary-General?" Yes. "I am happy to answer to you." Mr. Laroche said that humanitarianism and politics are very difficult to separate.

            "If I want to have more victims today, I just drop the [Transitional Federal] Institutions and we go back to chaos," he said. He added that even the 8,000 peacekeepers called for in the Security Council resolution would be barely enough. The four thousand actually slated to deploy will not be enough, he said. "Forget about it. It is not enough." Video here, at Minute 52.

Copter: food or gunship?

            Mr. Laroche told the media to "stop saying that the government is weak, because I don't think that it helps." Several reporters pointed out that they aim, or should aim, to report how things are, not how they might be in the future. Mr. Laroche countered that "as weak at the Institutions may appear to the Somali people or to you, there is no other way today."

            He acknowledged that this government remains based in Baidoa, and that Somalis are fleeing Mogadishu as it has re-descended into chaos. He spoke of a TFI-sponsored conference in April and said that elements of the Islamic Courts Union might or might not attend. Mr. Laroche appeared to take no position on whether the ICU should be included. One wondered, if the UN so unequivocally embraces the Transitional Federal Government, why should it speak to its perceived enemies?

  Even Francois Lonseny Fall, the UN's other man in, or about, Somalia, says that there should be a process including the moderate elements of the Islamic Courts. Ban Ki-moon has given the same answer. And so while freelancing Indiana Joneses are always appreciated, this may be a sidebar version of Jan Egeland meeting with the Lord's Resistance Army. And it may be a one-off.

   Mr. Laroche doubles as the UN's humanitarian coordinator and, it is said, UNDP's resident representative in Somalia. He long worked with, and reportedly remains connected to, UNICEF. He is the UN in Somalia, and he is taking sides. This is described as the desired future of the UN "on the ground" -- a single decision maker who fuses (and perhaps misuses) all humanitarian and development programs of the UN.

            To some, Mr. Laroche appears to have conflated a location -- Mogadishu -- with a casting of political lots with a Transitional Federal Government which has still not reached out to important segments of Somali society, and which still has to gain trust and credibility, given that it is only in Mogadishu due to the Ethiopian Army. It is one thing for Mr. Laroche to urge international NGOs to come back to Mogadishu. But why should they accept his admonition to not speak ill of the government? Developing...

Rift Over UN's Call to Train Police for Somali Government Is Downplayed by UN Headquarters

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 7 -- Should the UN in Somalia now help train the police force of a government carried from Baidoa to Mogadishu behind a phalanx of Ethiopian troops?

    The question is raised by a recent exchange of letters between the UN's Eric Laroche and the Paris-based NGO Action Contre la Faim, ACF, obtained Wednesday by Inner City Press. ACF states that it currently has "a team of 90 Somali employees and five to seven expatriates permanently based in the field... implementing humanitarian projects in Wajid supporting more than 20,000 people [and] 2000 other Somali employees running health and nutrition activities in Mogadishu for more than 5,000 people per month, with the support of expatriates who visit them as regularly as possible."

            The trigger for ACF's January 21 letter was Laroche's exhortation, as now stated on the Internet, that "there is now a window of opportunity in Somalia to establish some degree of governance, law and order."

            As ACF's Xavier Dubos put it in the letter,

"the press release states a range of various activities prioritized by the UN which mix for example the 'training of police', 'the demobilization and reintegration of militias' and the 'provision of urgently needed basic social services.' ACF is fully aware of a general trend by governments and the United Nations to develop integrated, coherent policy approaches to international conflict and instability, combining political (and sometimes military) and aid instruments. But we wish to alert OCHA about the real risks created in the field by mixing the need for humanitarian aid and other political priorities. Besides inherent challenges, in this complex context, quick intervention in inadequate conditions or misperception by local actors of the impartiality and political independence of humanitarian workers may simply put the latter in danger and hamper humanitarian access and assistance to the populations in the short term and in a durable manner.

  These precautions are even more relevant given the current tense security context in Mogadishu. Humanitarian aid must be solely based on the needs of the population and strictly guided by humanitarian principles, especially impartiality and independence. One could expect that, given its specific mandate, OCHA and the Humanitarian Coordinator could strengthen the necessary distinction between humanitarian activities and any political agenda."

            On February 5, having heard about this letter but not yet having a copy of it, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, as transcribed by the UN:

Inner City Press:  Thanks, and also, referring to a letter by the NGO "Action Contre la Faim" to Eric Laroche, the Somali representative of the UN, basically criticizing Mr. Laroche for siding too clearly with the Ethiopian incursion and sort of taking almost a US side.  I want to know if thereís any response to that analysis and if it can be confirmed that the letter was received, and what response is being sent?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this at this point.  I donít have any information on that.

Inner City Press:  Can you get confirmation on that?

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Humanitarian(s)

            The following morning, the Spokesman's Office told Inner City Press that

"Yes, there was a letter from Action Contre la Faim to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia (Eric Laroche). ACF was discussing its views on  priorities for humanitarian action in Somalia and their take on the current security situation.  There was nothing in the letter that remotely suggested Eric was 'siding with the Ethiopians.' Eric has now responded, reaffirming the UN position that there now exists a window of opportunity to reengage in Somalia on a humanitarian level."

            The UN did not provide a copy of Mr. Laroche's letter, much less of ACF's. But on February 7, Inner City Press obtained both. The ACF letter does, at least "remotely," suggest that by "training the police" in Somalia -- which has in the past two months faced an incursion by Ethiopian troops with American support, and American gunship attacks on southern Somalia -- the UN is "mixing the need for humanitarian aid and other political priorities" raising questions about  "impartiality and political independence." The ACF letter cannot legitimately be characterized as a discussion of "priorities for humanitarian action," because it characterizes some of the UN's stated priorities as not only not a priority, but as inconsistent with humanitarian action. It's a debate that needs to be had, but one that the UN appears to want to prevent or to sweep under the rug.

            Mr. Laroche's response does not fully address the issue. Laroche argues that training the forces of the Transitional Federal Government might increase security and humanitarian access. Time alone will tell if this argument is true. But it is an argument, being made by the UN in the field.     After Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press sought an answer to these questions from the Office of the Spokesman staff who had written that "there was nothing in the [ACF] letter that remotely suggested Eric was 'siding with the Ethiopians.'"  This staffer said, "I can't give you the letters," and then seeing that Inner City Press had them, added "I've said all that I can about them."

     While it may not be necessary to say, this spokesman is otherwise helpful and civil and more, even on Wednesday, for example, on a question about Abkazhia. Mr. Laroche's previous work, in Congo-Brazzaville and elsewhere, has been widely praised. But why would UN headquarters want to muffle its field workers' arguments and the debates with civil society of which they are a part? Developing.

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on www.InnerCityPress.com --

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