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At UN, Somalis Plight Discussed Without Action, Problematic Biscuits and Nkunda's Rwandan Sojourn

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 6 -- On Thursday, the UN's humanitarian coordinator John Holmes called on the Security Council to "strongly encourage" Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and the Ethiopian troops which brought the TFG to power to allow humanitarian access. Earlier in the week, the TFG's local authorities had blocked the landing at the port of Merca of a ship of food, one escorted by the French navy to protect against piracy. Inner City Press on Tuesday asked this month's Council president, Marcello Spatafora of Italy, about the aid-blockage at Merca; Amb. Spatafora responded that the Council should not "micro-manage" particular ships. Asked about Holmes call for action, Amb. Spatafora on Thursday indicated that all methods should be used, "bilateral contacts" and special envoys, and, he has implied, some formal Council document following a meeting on Somalia scheduled for December 17. We'll see.

            Inner City Press also asked Holmes if he had any guidance for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUC, as it provides logistics to the Congolese army's campaign against the forces of Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu. "I'm not sure if I have any guidance," Holmes said, before adding that all sides should "keep in mind" the plight of civilians. Video here, from Minute 11. The UN has denied that Nkunda wrote to MONUC chief William Lacy Swing to request a mediator. Meanwhile, Inner City Press' sources say that Nkunda is currently in neighboring Rwanda, even as fighting continues.

UN's John Holmes, red tie, in Sudan

            Still at the nexus of crackdowns and humanitarian crises, Inner City Press tracked down two UN Under Secretary General's away from the stakeout on Thursday. Children and Armed Conflict chief Radhika Coomaraswamy reported on the day's Council working group meeting on Burundi at which she raised the issue of 400 reported child soldiers with the the dissident (or deserting) FNL forces. She said that UNICEF has been prepared to demobilize the child-soldiers.  Inner City Press asked about prosecution; Ms. Coomaraswamy said that recruiters from countries what are not International Criminal Court members, like Myanmar, would still be indicted if in a country that is a member.

            Ibrahim Gambari, now the envoy for Myanmar, has yet to brief the media since returning Sunday from his trip. Inner City Press asked him about Cambodia, where officials have said they oppose sanctions on Myanmar, but support Gambari's role. "That's not surprising," Gambari said, "that they oppose sanctions." Inner City Press noted who strenuously he and his spokesperson had pointed out that they were only in Cambodia to discuss Myanmar, not the war crimes court that that appears to be picking up steam. That was not within my mandate, Gambari said.

            Neither Myanmar nor Burundi, not even DRC and Somalia, were raised at Ban Ki-moon's half-hour press encounter Thursday at 3. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo if the issue of Somalia will be on the agency of the AU meeting he is headed to. He indicated yes, it will deal with all African issues. Question: how about Zimbabwe? Developing.

            In Somalia, not only is the UN-supported Transitional Federal Government still targeting civilians -- the TFG is even calling into question some of the UN's food deliveries. 

            Recently a source in Mogadishu made Inner City Press aware of a letter by the staff of TFG member of parliament Sharma'arke Mohamed Hashi Gaani alleging to "partners in the humanitarian community" that food delivered by UNICEF, contains poison, specifically Aflatoxin which causes liver damage and cancer, that the French aid agency Action Contre la Faim investigated this and concluded that it is toxic, and made various claims about UNICEF's awareness of and action on this. Every fair and balanced, we put the question to UNICEF, which a few days later responded:

Regarding your question on the UNIMIX biscuits:

A UNIMIX consignment from UNICEF was delivered to Wajid in September 2007. As part of the normal operating procedure, samples from this consignment were  sent to Nairobi for testing before distribution. The result indicated the presence of Aflatoxin - a naturally occurring toxin that are metabolic by-products of fungi which grow on many food crops under certain conditions.  UNICEF was alerted to this and immediately halted all the UNIMIX shipments until testing could be completed.  No tainted UNIMIX was distributed and no children or adults were sickened as a result.

It is believed that the Aflatoxin occurred during transport, since sample testing is done by a third party company before the UNIMIX leaves the warehouse. Subsequently,  no other batches of UNIMIX have shown any contamination.  UNICEF has begun re-distributing stocks of UNIMIX that were held in storage pending testing. There has been no interruption of feeding center activities

INSTAR is the company that supplies UNIMIX to UNICEF. INSTAR is a reputable supplier based in Kenya and also services WFP and USAID, not only for Kenya, but for most countries in East Africa.

As a result of this incident, UNICEF is strengthening monitoring of the company that ships the UNIMIX to ensure that the trucks are properly covered / sealed and that the bags are not exposed to potential temperature fluctuations/contamination.  Once the UNIMIX is delivered to our main warehouse in Baidoa and Jowhar, the consignment will be re-tested for any potential contamination.

            If the aid can be delivered at all, it should be added. Developing.

* * *

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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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

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