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While US Denies Paying Child Soldiers of Somali TFG, Safeguards and UN Role Not Clear

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- Since the Transitional Federal Government was installed in Somalia, it has been known that it controlled its small turf by using child soldiers. The US provided salaries, the UN system provided training.

  But as Mexico's Ambassador to the UN Claude Heller told Inner City Press on June 15, when a 12 year old with an enormous AK 47 is on the front page of the New York Times, what had been accepted changes. See video here.

  Heller is the president of UN Security Council for June, and will chair a meeting on June 16 on children and armed conflict. After Inner City Press asked him about the TFG, Heller replied off camera that the issue will be raised on June 16.

  In the interim, Inner City Press asked but the UN and US diplomats about the issues. Carolyn Vadino, a spokesperson at the US Mission to the UN, told Inner City Press that

"The United States is firmly against the use of child soldiers by all sides in any conflict. U.S. assistance provides salary support to TFG security forces. Prior to making payments to any individual member of these forces we take appropriate steps to verify the ages of such individuals to ensure that we are not funding salaries of anyone under the age of 18."

  How in a war-torn environmental like Mogadishu the US claims full control over the payments to individual soldiers is not known. Another US official, speaking only on background, referred to safeguards in "the Leahy amendment." Clearly, there are more questions to be asked and answered.

Lovefest with TFG, May 2010, UN's Ban, Kouchner, Turks, child soldiers not shown

At the June 15 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: on Somalia, there is this report of the use by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of child soldiers, and this includes quotes from the UN saying that they’re aware of it. Since the UN provides training and some funding for the TFG forces, the UN system does, I’m wondering what safeguards are in place that the UN itself has not been either training or funding or otherwise involved in the use of child soldiers by the TFG?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Certainly the United Nations does not approve of the use of child soldiers anywhere, and we would not encourage any of that in its operations. If I have any further information on the specifics of that, I’ll let you know. But certainly, among other things, tomorrow, we will have as one of the guests at the noon briefing, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who deals with this issue and you can certainly ask that of her as well.

We'll be there: watch this site.

Footnote: In the UN's North Lawn building on June 14, Inner City Press was approached by two Somali woman, in from Minneapolis for a conference on the Millennium Development Goals. Inner City Press was recently in Minneapolis, getting reaction from the Somali diaspora to the UN's replacement of the generally unpopular Ahmedou Ould Abdallah with Tanzania's Ambassador to the UN Augustine Mahiga.

The two women on Monday asked how to arrange a meeting to Mahiga, to tell him of Somalia's plight before he takes up his post in Nairobi. They spoke of the lack of opportunity for children in Mogadishu. But these are not voices that will be heard in Wednesday's Security Council session. But afterward and on the sidelines, there will be questions - perhaps even answers.

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Somali Diaspora Questions UN's Moves, from Twin Cities to West Bank

By Matthew Russell Lee

WEST BANK, June 10 -- People with no assurance of ever returning home follow politics more closely than those who've never left. Hassan, a Somali living in the Minneapolis neighborhood called the West Bank -- of the Mississippi River -- asked bitterly why the United Nations sent Ahmedou Ould Abdallah and now "the Tanzanian" Augustine Mahiga, as envoy to his homeland. "Who not a Somali?" Hassan asked Inner City Press on June 10. "Are we not good enough?"

Hassan works at Safari Express, an East African take out restaurant, in the Midtown Global Market in south Minneapolis. Over a plate of chicken suqqar, he recounted to Inner City Press how the civil war in his country makes it impossible to return. Some, he said, return only to fight, usually for Al Shaabab, "The Youth."

Outside in the Chicago and Lake neighborhood, women in veils walk in front of liquor stores and half abandoned buildings. The Ugbaad Cafe is closed and boarded up, across the street from one of Minneapolis' Peavy Parks. Two blocks further south, traversed on one of Minneapolis' bikes to rent and share, nurses are picketing Children's Hospital.

"Is that a rental bike?" a Somali calls out to Inner City Press. Yes it is. From 11th and Marquette out to 30th and Lake is less than 20 minutes. The same to the West Bank and Riverside.

  It is June in Minneapolis and aging rock bands play for free. There is a statue for Mary Tyler Moore. Make it, Mary Tyler Moore in Mogadishu. "Don't go there," Hassan advises Inner City Press. "They kidnap you for money."

Ruins in Somalia, West Bank (of Minneapolis) not shown

In fact, Inner City Press traveled with the UN Security Council and Ould Abdallah to Djibouti in 2008. Ministers of the Transitional Federal Government, some from Minnesota, stayed in the expensive Kempinsky Hotel and assigned themselves positions.

  Now they control four square blocks in Mogadishu. The view of them from Riverside, from Minneapolis Somalis, is less than positive. "We need our country back," Hassan said over chicken. Then he smiled and went back behind the counter.

* * *

At UN, Somalia Post Handed from Ould Abdallah to Mahiga, of Yemen's G-77 Deal

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- The UN's envoy on Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, who called for a moratorium on press reporting of civilian deaths in Mogadishu and cut a stealth deal about Somali off shore rights with Kenya and Norway, has been relieved of his functions.

Sources last week told Inner City Press that he was being replaced by Tanzania's current Permanent Representative to the UN, Augustine Mahiga. The affable Ambassador Mahiga has been seeking a UN job for some time. He put himself up for the number two post in the UN Development Program, running against his own foreign minister. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UNDP's Helen Clark bypassed the African Group and gave to post to Rebecca Grynspan of Costa Rica.

On June 4, rather than simply write the story without receiving confirmation, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe:

Inner City Press: Ould-Abdallah.. is leaving in July and seeks to remain as an adviser to the Secretary-General. I just want you to confirm that he is leaving, and to confirm or deny that Augustine Mahiga, the Tanzanian ambassador, is going to be named the SRSG [Secretary-General’s Special Representative].

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing on any appointments.

Inner City Press: But Ould-Abdallah has said publicly that he is leaving in July. Is that the case?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing on that.

Inner City Press: He said it.

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing on appointments for Somalia today.

Even thought Inner City Press knew it to be true, confirmation was sought from Mahiga himself. The Tanzanian Mission said he was in Europe thought June 18, but they would ask him (the staffer said, "that is good news"). But Mahiga, who previously asked Inner City Press to email him articles, did not respond.

Now, five days after Inner City Press publicly asked about Mahiga and Somalia, Ban Ki-moon has formally named Mahiga to the Somalia post, which is actually based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mahiga, stars and bars behind him, TFG not shown

  On June 9, before the confirmation, Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq if the UN had consulted with the Transitional Federal Government about Mahiga. Haq said yes -- but we'll have more on this.

  Several sources say that Mahiga is "so pro American, he'll make it all about counter - terrorism." Then again, that has already been the UN's approach.

These sources note that the UN way for a diplomat to seek a Secretariat job is for he or she -- almost always he -- to beginning selling out his Group and even his country, in exchange for the coming favor. The Secretariat uses the needs and wants of Permanent Representatives to obtain certain actions or forbearance in the budget committee -- which has continued meeting this week, despite the announced conclusion in May -- the General Assembly and in this case the peacebuilding commission.

"Consider Yemen," one well placed source told Inner City Press. "With all of the conflicts and problems, you might expect the UN to name an envoy or otherwise get involved. But since Yemen managed to head the Group of 77 this year, they use that leverage to tell the UN to do nothing. In exchange for which, the Group of 77 does not move to hold Ban accountable." Watch this site.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece 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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