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As Puntland Is Bombed by US, Security Council Leaves Somalia in the Footnotes, With Sanctions

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 4 -- As in Somalia bombs aim for the Ethiopia-installed prime minister, and the U.S. launches air strikes on Puntland, the UN Security Council in New York has scheduled a single meeting on Somalia, and that ten full days from now.

            On Monday Inner City Press asked incoming Council president Johan Verbeke, Belgium's Ambassador, during his press conference outlining the month's agenda, if there would be discussion of UN blue helmets replacing the African Union force -- at this point, only from Uganda -- and the largest Ethiopian occupation. Amb. Verbeke replied that "contingency plans" for a "possible transition" from AU to UN forces will be discussed.

            Earlier on Monday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson:

Inner City Press: Over the weekend, there were reports of United States air strikes in Puntland in Somalia, and also, more recently, a bombing of the Prime Minister, an assassination attempt.  Does anyone at the United Nations have anything to say on this?  Have they confirmed the U.S. did air strikes?  Is that legal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don't have confirmation of the air strikes.  I am very familiar with the reports that you have seen, that we have seen, and I know that the Secretary-General and the Department of Political Affairs are monitoring this very closely and I may have something more for you on this tomorrow, but I don't have anything today.

[The Spokesperson later announced that the Secretary-General is dispatching his Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs to the horn of Africa.]

            The referenced press release has Lynn Pascoe traveling to Kenya and after that, "the final itinerary is still being determined." This recalls the UN's John Holmes recent trip to Mogadishu, cut short when four bombs went off along his route from the airport.

            Amb. Verbeke said that Mr. Pascoe will briefing the Council upon his scheduled return, on June 14.  Some in the region have wondered, is the Council considering another resolution? Perhaps it is. But the Council has effectively ignored the most recent report to in on (non) compliance with the arms embargo on Somalia, which eight countries at that time were said to be violation. Inner City Press asked Amb. Verbeke why this issue is on the Council's footnotes for the month. "Because South Africa's president may come and address the Council on the issue," Amb. Verbeke replied. We'll see.

Puntland Hospital per UN

            Also during Monday's program of work press conference, Inner City Press asked Amb. Verbeke about the request by Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be put next in line by the Council, if Kosovo is given independence. Amb. Verbeke dodged this question. Video here, from Minute 12:22.

            Inner City Press also asked about footnote on the schedule, that called "small arms." This issue has bounced around at the bottom of the agenda since Argentina proposed a resolution in March 2006. A year later, South Africa proposed a presidential statement, which Amb. Verbeke on Monday said has a chance of passing this month. He said that there was a meeting later in the day on the topic. Inner City Press went down to the UN's basement to attend. Sure enough, in Conference Room 8 from 3 to 6 p.m., the sign said, there was a meeting of experts on the illicit brokering of small arms. But the meeting was closed to the public.

            Amb. Verkeke seems like he'll be relatively more transparent than last month's president, Zalmay Khalilzad of the U.S., who didn't even hold a program of work press conference, and didn't once mentions the less high profile issues that show up in a month's Council calendar's footnotes.  The test of Amb. Verbeke's openness may be whether he releases some long withheld reports, such as the December 2004 report on human rights in Cote d'Ivoire and the December 2005 report on Cote d'Ivoire of the Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. Now that Francis Deng is replacing Mr. Juan Mendez in the post, perhaps these withheld reports will be released. We'll see.

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

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