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After Bombing in Somalia, UN's Holmes Regrets Not Meeting Hawiye Clan, Prizes Peace over Justice

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 21 -- After briefing the Security Council about his recent visit to Mogadishu, which was cut short by a series of bombing that following him throughout the city, killing at least four people, UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes confirmed that he had not met with the Ethiopian forces nor the leaders of the Hawiye clan.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Holmes, "Should you have met with the Hawiye clan elders?" Mr. Holmes said he regretted not meeting with the Hawiye, but that his time with "civil society" and woman's groups provided at least some alternative to the views of the still-UN-supported Transitional Federal Government. The example he gave concerned the number of people who have fled Mogadishu. While the TFG puts the figure at thirty to forty thousand, Mr. Holmes puts the number ten times higher. In any event, Mr. Holmes said, contacts with the Hawiye are being handled from Kenya by UN envoy Francois Lonseny Fall and by the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, also Nairobi-based, Eric Laroche.

            On the humanitarian front, the UN's World Food Program has called for international action against pirates off the Somali coast. Inner City Press asked Mr. Holmes, as the UN's humanitarian chief, for his views on what should be done, and by whom? Holmes referred to the Security Council taking action, or countries who have "assets" in the area. Inner City Press asked if it was Holmes view that such countries -- the super-monopower, as it happens -- would need Security Council approval to undertake military action of the type requested by WFP. No, Holmes said, they "don't need the blessing of the Council" to take action.

Mr. Holmes in Juba earlier this year

            Why had he not met with the Ethiopian forces, Inner City Press asked. Mr. Holmes said he has spoken with the Ethiopian mission in New York before going. "Ethiopia can play a role" in allowing humanitarian access, Holmes said, since they effectively "control ground in certain areas." Holmes made a point of saying that Somalis, apparently as a whole, support the Ugandan deployment. The evidence he offered for this was people's waving at that troops as he moved with them -- before the four bombings, presumably.

Uganda, North by Northeast

            Mr. Holmes also briefed about his visit to northern Uganda. He painted a positive picture, and said that people in the camps are focused on peace and reconciliation, and by implication, not on enforcement of the indictments and warrants of the International Criminal Court about the leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army. Beyond their history of recruiting child soldiers and forcing them to kill their parents, their neighbors and their peers, the LRA is charged with recent attacks in Southern Sudan.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Holmes, "How little justice would you settle for?" It's not for me to say, Mr. Holmes let on. Asked if he had visited the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda, where the Museveni government has killed civilians in the name of forcible disarmament, Mr. Holmes said that he had raised the issue during his visit, but added that in Acholiland, people are afraid of the armed Karimojong pastoralists.

News analysis: While Inner City Press thanked Mr. Holmes and his spokeswoman for all the time -- 19 minutes, click here to view -- he took to answer questions, the responses themselves raise questions. If the UN remains so aligned with the TFG in Somalia that it does not even meet with the clan the TFG is attacking, what is the UN's responsibility for the attacks, and to ensure the participation of TFG opponents in the "reconciliation" conference still slated for June 14? And in Uganda, how long can UN officials, including envoy Chissano, openly meet with individuals under indictment and warrant for arrest by the UN-affiliated ICC, without making a mockery of the indictments, and of international criminal justice more generally? These questions have yet to be answered, but the clock is ticking.

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

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