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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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As Mogadishu Mayor Says to Let Displaced Children Starve, UN Prepares Mild Reminder

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 25 -- When the Mayor of Mogadishu, part of the UN-supported Transitional Federal Government as well as a former US-funded warlord, calls a group of displaced women and children "terrorists" who would not received food or other aid, what does the United Nations do?  Initially, nothing.

            Mayor Mohamed Dheere's comments were reported more than a week ago in the Somali press. At UN Headquarters in New York, Inner City Press began to ask for reaction. When the displaced people were reported to call for UN help, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a response. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: In Somalia, a current round of internally displaced persons leaving Mogadishu who claim that the mayor of Mogadishu has made statements that they are terrorists and that humanitarian aid should not reach them.  They are reported by the Somalia media to be asking for the help of the UN, both to say something about what the mayor said about them being terrorists, but also to serve them.  So, I guess I am wondering, this seems to be a request to the UN...

Spokesperson:  Who has this request been made to?

Inner City Press: Well, they talk about what Eric Laroche said and criticize him for not criticizing the mayor of Mogadishu for calling them terrorists.  And the report said they held a demonstration, and the media say:  "The demonstrators called on the United Nations to assist them."  So, I am wondering if this is a legitimate...  Do they have to send a letter to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Not to the Secretary-General.  As you know, we have in Nairobi our Special Representative to Somalia, and we have an office that deals specifically with Somalia.

            But what if they don't have stamps?

            After a series of e-mails to other UN spokespeople went unanswered, Inner City Press asked Deputy Humanitarian Relief chief Margareta Wahlstrom, during a briefing about the UN's response to natural disasters in North Korea, Peru and the Caribbean.

            Ms. Wahlstrom said that people should access to food. Afterwards, Inner City Press told her of one Somali press account which criticizes the UN's resident humanitarian coordinator Eric Laroche for not responding to Mayor Deere's comments. Inner City Press sent the article -- and photo -- to Ms. Wahlstrom and another Office for the Coordination of  Humanitarian Affairs staffer.

UN's Eric Laroche posing for photo with the children in the camps near Afgoye, Mohamed Dheere's words not shown

            Friday at 6 p.m., Inner City Press was told by OCHA's desk officer for Somalia, Federica D'Andreagiovanni, that Eric Laroche is finally preparing a letter to send to the Transitional Federal Government's prime minister Gedi. The letter, which she said has yet to be sent, will "remind the government" that the UN helps people pursuant to its "core principles... without political consideration."

            But this is the same Eric Laroche who said that the UN and the international community should fall 100% in step with the TFG. That gave Gedi and Deere carte blanche. Quiet objections, and even then belated, to the consequences are not enough.  If this is the current UN's brand of quiet diplomacy, it ill-serves not only humanitarian access, but also human rights.

* * *

  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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

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