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Algeria Ignored Security Requests Prior to Bombing, UNDP's Dervis Says, Insurance Unanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 16 -- The UN asked the Algerian government to help block off the street in front of the UN building in Algiers that was ultimately bombed on December 11, but the government never responded, UN Development Program Administrator Kemal Dervis told a press conference on Wednesday. Answering a question from Inner City Press regarding if UNDP's Marc de Bernis had declined to raise the security threat level earlier in 2007, in order not to anger the Algerian government, Dervis said that the setting of threat levels is "ultimately managed by the UN's Department of Safety and Security... headed by Sir David Veness." Video here, from Minute 39:48.

            Mr. Veness submitted a report on the bombing to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on January 11, a report that has yet to be made public. Now an external review panel has been called for, which Dervis on Wednesday said will be "finished in a few weeks." Since the members of the panel have yet to be named, and the Algerian government now says it will not cooperate, Inner City Press later at Wednesday asked Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm Dervis' statement of timing. Ms. Montas replied that "there is no time table on that," and saying "let's not second guess," declined to confirm Dervis' statement that UNDP had asked the Algerian government to block off the street. "I don't have to comment on what Mr. Dervis said, it's his prerogative." Video here, from Minute 11:13.

            In fact, Inner City Press is told by UNDP sources that Marc de Bernis declined to act on a request by UN staffer Babacar Ndiaye to install waist-high metal barricades that can be raised and retracted, and did not raise the threat level above "One," the lowest of five numeric ratings. Dervis on Wednesday, apparently in an attempt to deflect responsibility from UNDP and attention from Algiers, told reporters that the UN's threat level is still "One," even today, in Islamabad, Pakistan. He also said that there are six or seven countries in which UN staff are told to work from home, due to danger or insecure UN buildings. Dervis refused to name the countries, other than acknowledging that Algeria is now one of them.

UN officials at the bomb site in Algiers on December 18

            Dervis said that the claimed request was made to the Algerian government soon after bombings in Algiers in April 2007. Algerian interior minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni has been quoted that "based on information gleaned from members of the GSCP [Salafist Group for Call and Combat / Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] arrested by the security services after the April 11 attacks, public buildings like the U.N. headquarters were among the targets of the organization." Dervis on Wednesday said he wasn't sure if Minister has denied this, and so refused to comment.

            Dervis also did not respond on an issue raised by Inner City Press as part of the first question in the press conference: what is the status of insurance coverage of, and payments to, UN staff and contractors and their families? Inner City Press is informed by UNDP sources that an attempt is being made to tell the insurer, Willis and Lloyd's, that the bombing on December 11 was not a terrorist event, that issues of who is covered and future insurance premiums are being dealt with an a non-transparent manner while some families are being told that payments to them for the death of their loved one are "voluntary."

            Dervis acknowledged that there are today UN building which are not compliant with MOSS, Minimum Operating Security Standards. He insisted that the Algiers building had not be certified as MOSS compliant. That, and the new review, are incongruous with a previously paid-for "validation exercise undertaken by Control Risk Group, an outside security risk management company" for the UN, according to a July 2004 memo obtained by Inner City Press. If MOSS and safety was subject to an external review in 2004, why did the UN still occupy non-MOSS compliant buildings in 2007, and what is going to be the function, and public output, of the external review panel whose members are slated to be named next week? We'll have more on this, and on UNDP. Watch this site.

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These reports are 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

  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.

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

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