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Child Soldiers in Somalia Unaddressed in Security Council Speeches, Conflict of Interest

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 16 -- As the UN Security Council debates one of its favorite topics, Children and Armed Conflict, it has a conflict of interest. Since 2006 it has supported, some say propped up, the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia. Now what was long known has been more publicly exposed, that at least 20% of the TFG's soldiers are underage, some below ten years old.

  On June 15 Inner City Press asked Council President for June Claude Heller of Mexico what the Council would do about the report. There is a debate tomorrow, Heller said on camera. Later, emerging from consultations in the Council chamber with, among others, delegates of Ivory Coast and Georgia, Heller said that something would be said on the topic on Wednesday.

  Mexico's foreign minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano is in New York for the debate, slated to speak to the Press at 11:30. But not on this topic, Inner City Press is told. What then could she be asked? If the underaged members of drug gangs like La Familia in Michoacan should be considered children in armed conflict?

UN's Ban and Sec't Espinosa, 2009, support for TFG and its child soldiers not shown

But here's from Secretary Espinosa's statement:

"Mexico call upon the Security Council, within the limits of its mandate, to continue being vigilant of the repercussions that armed conflicts have on children, and to promote concrete actions to fulfill the recommendations emanating from the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. We defend the interests of children and consider that, as a community, we must enhance our efforts to give a wide and effective protection to children. Crimes against children cannot be stopped if perpetrators remain unpunished."

What about enablers in the recruitment of child soldiers, like the UN Political Office on Somalia, UNDP and... the UN Security Council? We will be asking. Sixty countries are coming to speechify. Watch this site.

Update of 10:38 a.m. -- After Susan Rice strode in at 10:11, the meeting and speeches started. Another P5 member's spokesperson said they're aware of the TFG Somalia expose, but "it hasn't come up, there's been no reason for it to come up." And in today's debate on children and armed conflict? "Let's see," the spokesperson says. Yeah, let's.

Update of 10:41 a.m. -- it emerges in the Security Council "quiet room" people, including Ambassadors, are watching the Spain - Switzerland game instead of listening to the speeches on children and armed conflict.

Update of 11:37 a.m. -- US Amb. Susan Rice briefly mentions Somalia, calling on "all parties" to stop recruiting child soldiers. What about the "party" the US is funding, the TFG? Not enough specifics. She also mentions DRCongo, the Lord's Resistance Army and the Central African Republic. Answers on Somalia, and on US safeguards, are needed. But here comes Sec't Espinosa.

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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. The women asked how to arrange a meeting with new envoy Augustine 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.

  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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