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UK's Nero-Like April Atop Security Council, Fiddling As Somalia, Chad and Central Africa Burn

Byline: Inner City Press at the UN, Once a Month Op-Ed

UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- The UK has held the presidency of the UN Security Council for the past month, after which many are left wondering, where's the beef, and what was accomplished?

   Recently on BBC television, a representative of the UK-based charity Oxfam said that Britain is a small country which can "punch above its weigh" due mostly to its veto-wielding status as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. But does it?

            In an April 4 briefing for the UN press corps about his "plan of work" for the month, UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said he would give "blood, sweat and tears" to push an agenda including Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic, climate change, Kosovo and Somalia. Let us review each of these in turn.

            In Somalia, fighting spun out of control during the month, with nary a peep from the Council or its president. In fact, on the UK's "end of presidency" day on the April 27, the UK-led Council heard only from Ethiopia, viewed by many as the invader, and not from the forces that it is fighting. Click here for that story.  On April 12, when asked by Inner City Press if he or any one else had raised the issues in a recent European Commission email warning of complicity in war crimes by backers of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, including the Security Council. "I'm not aware of it," Amb. Jones Parry said.

            Not a single UN peacekeeper was deployed in Chad or the Central African Republic during the month, despite the obvious need and, in the case of CAR, no real opposition to such a deployment. Was it lack of interest? Even on the African issue on which the UK has spoken most, Zimbabwe, nothing was done in April. Following the merely humanitarian debate in late March, Amb. Jones Parry ventured that Zimbabwe was a "potential problem for regional security," a formulation which has South African Ambassador Kumalo laughing derisively. Later in April, democracy activists traveled to the UN to testify about their beating and detention. But they were allow to speak only to journalists, not to the UK-led Council.

Amb. Emyr Jones Parry in April 2007; one wag wondered, I Claudius or Nero?

            Minister Margaret Beckett came to the UN, to sit at a largely ceremonial meeting on Darfur then preside over the Council's day-long speech-fest on climate change. This last was allowed to degenerate into a turf war between the Council and the General Assembly. As predicted, not even a presidential statement came out of it.

            On Kosovo what was accomplished was sending most of the Ambassadors, along with UK Number Two Karen Pierce, on a trip to Belgrade and Pristina. On the lower profile issue of Abkhazia, Georgia, the UK could not even prevail on its ally the United States to allow the Abkhaz foreign minister a visa to attend any of the Council's meeting. With friends like these...

     On issues of UN reform, however, the UK mission has very little to say. Asked over the past months about the UK's relations with UN funds, programs and agencies, questions that began well before the North Korea hard currency controversy first reported on January 19, 2007, the UK mission had nothing at all to say. Nor about a UNICEF study of the country's policies and practices with regard to children. All of the Mission's eggs are in the Security Council basket -- and after a month in the presidency, one is left asking, where's the beef?

            Throughout the month, issues of the Middle East and the proposed Lebanon tribunal arose again and again. Yet tellingly, an Arab television journalist tells Inner City Press he was unceremoniously excluded from a briefing on the topic in the UK's private room on the third floor about the UN Security Council. "By invitation only," he was told. By contrast, this was not the practice of March's Council president, South Africa, nor of Slovakia before it, nor in different ways of the other Permanent Council members. The UK wants the power to "punch above its weight" but not what comes along with it.

            Likewise, while on April 13 Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin declined to speak about the Kosovo mission before Council's president did, Amb. Jones Parry declined to come out and speak to reporters. Some in the press corps gripe that while Amb. Jones Parry has cultivated the image of being accessible, the reality is quite different. He presided over the Security Council in October 2004 as well, to much the same effect. He seems a decent enough chap. Perhaps it is his staff.

            On April 23, deigning to participate on a panel about the possibilities for an arms trade treaty, Amb. Jones Parry was asked how the treaty could meaningfully proceed with, from the Permanent Five, opposition from the U.S. and abstentions from China and Russia. Amb. Jones Parry said it was hard enough to answer for the UK, let alone any other Council members.

            While the UK often says it is much concerned with the destruction visited upon Northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army, during its month holding the conch of the UN Security Council, the UK did not only raise the issue. Nor did Amb. Jones Parry respond to a question about the Museveni government's violent disarmament of pastoralists in Uganda's northeastern Karamoja region, when asked on April 23.

            Following Oxfam's logic, that the UK can punch above its weigh due to its anachronistic Security Council status, the UK should have an interest in an effective and transparent Security Council. Whether these goals were meaningfully further during the UK's month as president is doubtful. Perhaps next time around...

Byline: Inner City Press Once a Month Op-Ed that needs to be said

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Somali Diplomat Denounces UN's Warlord Payments, Blackhawk Down - TFG Connection Confirmed

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 27 -- The UN Security Council on Friday heard a closed-door briefing from Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin about his country's continued military presence in Somalia. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Mesfin about reports that UN humanitarian aid has been hindered by the Transitional Federal Government, which Ethiopia installed atop the country in December.

            Mr. Mesfin denied that the TFG or "our troops" had created obstacles, and noted that TFG Prime Minister Gedi had "the day before yesterday said that humanitarian aid is welcome."

            In an interview appearing in the Times of London on April 27, Gedi is quoted accusing UN agencies "of corruption; of using private airstrips to ship in contraband, weapons and insurgents; of striking cozy deals with warlords and the ousted Islamic Courts regime and pocketing the proceeds. He said the United Nations' World Food Program and other agencies were upset because they had lost power after effectively governing Somalia during its 15 years of civil war and anarchy. 'They want to operate in this country without any control,' he declared. 'They know they can't do that any more . . . Now there's a Prime Minister who knows them too well.'"

            Inner City Press at Friday's noon briefing asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a response:

Inner City Press: In Somalia, the Prime Minister in an interview had said that the UN aid agencies are used to running the country like it’s their own fiefdom and that they’re basically disagreeing with Mr. [John] Holmes in terms of humanitarian access.  So I'm wondering if anyone in the UN system has some response to those statements or what the status is of humanitarian access in Somalia. 

Spokesperson:  Well, according to what I got today, the discussions were good and they were given access.  And the tone was positive on the part of WFP.  

            After some other Inner City Press questions, a statement was handed to Spokesperson:

Spokesperson:  "We can find an answer for you.  And about Somalia, as far as I know, and I see the information I got there, there was a meeting about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.  The meeting was positive.  WFP was given the green light to begin deliveries, which was done.  And basically everything is working now between WFP and TFG.  According to OCHA, the UN has some 200 national and international staff in south central Somalia whose sole aim is to assist the people of that country, including in delivering urgently needed life-saving assistance.  So, the UN humanitarian agencies, which are non-political, do not aspire to enjoy power in Somalia or elsewhere, as was said in an article today."

            Later on Friday, Inner City Press interviewed Idd Beddel Mohamed, the Somali TFG's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, who said:

"The UN agencies used to serve Somalia when there was no government. Now instead of adapting, they still want to dictate terms. The UN hired warlords, paid them in dollars to protect and deliver. The warlords bought more technicals and militias. The UN agencies should not try to address the difference by talking to the media."

            Inner City Press asked him to confirm that the TFG has appointed as Police Chief one of the individuals whom the U.S. was seeking during the incident memorialized in "Blackhawk Down." Yes, he said, it is Col. Aideed (a/k/a Abdi Qaybdiid).

            The worm, as they say, has turned...

Idd Beddel Mohamed at the UN

           While the UN had earlier on Friday announced the re-appointment of Francois Lonseny Fall for another year as the UN's envoy to Somalia, Idd Beddel Mohamed said he hadn't been aware, and said: "Why isn't he in Mogadishu? Let him enjoy Nairobi, and even the beaches of Mombassa." Inner City Press asked whether minorities like the Mushinguli were included in the TFG as required by the "4.5" plan previously alluded to by Lonseny Fall. "They have the ministry of sports!" Idd Beddel Mohamed exclaimed.

 [Under "4.5," each of Somalia's four main clans are supposed to get slightly less than 25% of the posts, with 1/9th for other minorities, such as the ultimate underdogs, the Mushinguli, brought to Somalia from further South in Africa, and long denied their rights, a topic to which we will return.]

   Idd Beddel Mohamed chided Inner City Press for asking Under Secretary General John Holmes about quotes from the TFG President and deputy defense minister, saying that the quotes are just "internet propaganda." When Inner City Press pointed out that the source was Voice of America, Idd Beddel Mohamed replied that Voice of America's "affiliate in Mogadishu is owned by a supporter of these insurgents."

            Before he left the UN, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin pronounced that "the backbone of the terrorists has been completely shattered"  but that a different message gets out, because they have "a wide network globally."

            Who are you going to believe? For now, the UN and Security Council appear to continue to cast their lot with the TFG, despite warnings. Or is the European Commission's warning about war crimes and complicity just "internet propaganda"? We will continue to cover this.

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on --

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