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UN Leaves Somalia With No International Staff, Gedi's Nairobi Villa Is Word on Mogadishu Street

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 14 -- Eight weeks after the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Eric Laroche advised his UN colleagues and NGOs to cast their lot with the UN-supported Transitional Federal Government, his boss John Holmes called for an investigation of potential war crimes involving the TFG. Holmes' weekend visit to Mogadishu was cut short by a series of bombs.

            In New York, the UN's spokesperson initially read out that Holmes' "mission had to be cut short for security reasons and plans for a second day in Somalia were cancelled.  Nevertheless, in discussions with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, Holmes did have the opportunity to stress that the Transitional Federal Government needs to provide a more enabling operating environment for aid workers."

   After Inner City Press asked about bombs, the spokesperson specified that

"a bomb exploded a few minutes after he arrived in the Somali capital on Saturday.  And, I guess, there were two other bombs that went off within half an hour, all on the path of his itinerary.  And personnel from the African Union Mission to Somalia defused the fourth explosive device, also on the route of his itinerary."

            A reporter asked, "does this mean there's a position towards the United Nations, and thatís why they would target a senior official with all these bombs?"

  The spokesperson's response drew laughter from the press corps:

Spokesperson:  Well, Iím not saying that he was personally... I was just saying that bombs exploded on his itinerary.  We cannot draw the conclusion that he was the target... Iím just saying that the bombs happened to be on his itinerary.

            Inner City Press asked if Mr. Laroche, who praised the TFG and criticized NGOs which urged caution was now based in Mogadishu, if any UN international staff are. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Who in the United Nations system remains in Mogadishu?  Is [Eric] Laroche there?  What is the United Nations presence, international presence, in Mogadishu at this time?

Spokesperson:  I can find out for you who is still there, who is there.  There is always a United Nations presence in Somalia.  I donít know where it is deployed, but we will find out for you who is there.  Mr. [Francois Lonseny] Fall was there last week.  He went back, as you know, to Nairobi, and so...

Inner City Press: If you could figure out what the presence is there.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the United Nations has no permanent international presence in Mogadishu.]

            In terms of Nairobi, word on the street in Mogadishu is that Prime Minister Gedi has just bought a large villa there. Those who so adamantly supported the TFG might want to verify and act on this. On May 11, Inner City Press asked the UN about the TFG's funding demands for the twice-postponed reconciliation conference:

Inner City Press: You also mentioned Lonseny Fall being in Mogadishu.  The conference -- is the UN going to have any role in actually funding the conference, because I think that the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] is on record as saying they don't have funds for it.  It's not only safety but there's a funding problem.  So I'm wondering, what role will the UN have in funding the reconciliation conference?

Spokesperson:  I'll check that.

[The Spokesperson later added that the conference would essentially be funded by members of the international community on a voluntary and bilateral basis.  The UN is providing a consultation mechanism to that end.]

            We'll have more on the funding mechanisms, and the demands.

Bereaved mother in neighborhood targeted by TFG and Ethiopian forces, sent to Inner City Press by a photographer requesting anonymity for his safety

   For now, Inner City Press made inquiries with the UN World Food Program about humanitarian access, and about their presence in Mogadishu:

From: Peter Smerdon [at] wfp.org

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Mon, 14 May 2007 3:02 PM

Subject: Re: Thanks for Somalia response, one follow-up after USG Holmes abrupt departure from Mogadishu, thanks in advance

Matthew, The WFP Somalia Country Director, Peter Goossens, met USG Holmes in Nairobi before the USG went to Mogadishu on Saturday and USG Holmes discussed various issues there with the government and others -- as reflected in the news conference he gave in Nairobi today.

[Substantively, from a few days ago: WFP in the past week distributed food at 10 sites in Mogadishu to 16,000 people Ė the first WFP general food distributions in the city since much of the international community pulled out in 1995.  WFP also distributed 5 MT of food to hospitals in Mogadishu for 1,500 people injured in the worst fighting in the city in 16 years. Because of the fighting in Mogadishu and displacement of civilians, WFP now needs an extra US$10 million in donations for its operations in Somalia. UNHCR estimates that 395,000 people Ė over a third of Mogadishuís population Ė fled the city since 1 February.]

Total WFP Somalia Staff: 196 (31 international, 165 national)

  On the number of WFP staff in Mogadishu, we have a total of seven full-time WFP staff in Mogadishu and we have a total of 196 staff (31 international, 165 national) in all of WFP Somalia, including Nairobi and 11 field offices in Somalia itself.

            Since countrywide there is a breakdown between international and national staff, but in Mogadishu only "seven full-time WFP staff," and in light of the UN Spokesperson's Monday clarification that "the United Nations has no permanent international presence in Mogadishu," we concluded that all of WFP's staff in Mogadishu are local. Click here for today's Inner City Press story on UNDP and its local staff. Developing...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540