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In Somalia, UN Denies Mercenary Use, Admits Areas Unserved, WFP and USAID Cancel Q&A

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 23 -- In the wake in Somalia of the UN World Food Program's self-investigation of the relation of its aid distribution system and the Al Shabaab rebels, Inner City Press on September 23 asked the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden if, as Somali sources say, WFP has hired military contractors, with USAID money. Video here, from Minute 10:28.

  These are allegations by Somali sources which Inner City Press sought to ask the most senior officials of USAID and WFP about at what was advertised as a press availability on September 22, in the Millennium Hotel across from the UN. When Inner City Press arrives, early, for the Q&A session, WFP executive director Josette Sheeran was visible in a meeting with USAID signs on the wall.

  After a staff member confirmed it was Inner City Press which came to ask questions, the Q&A session was canceled, as was a second USAID session set for September 24. So the question was asked of Bowden as UN humanitarian coordinator.

  Bowden replied as to WFP, "I'm sure they haven't employed military contracts." He said that he is the UN system's Department of Safety & Security (DSS) designated security officer for the country. He then acknowledged that there are parts of Somalia where DSS cannot operate, where the UN relies on the security of "the agencies concerned" -- that is, WFP. Video here, from Minute 15:50

   There is a serious drought in Somalia, and Inner City Press asked Bowden to confirm that there are areas where the UN has no humanitarian access. Bowden replied that yes there are, for example in Johar, where UNICEF vaccines were looted. He said that usually the "local community" makes good or provides assurances, but that hasn't happened in Johar.

  Inner City Press asked about the Shabaab's statements against DSS, the UN Development Program and Ould Abdullah's UNPOS, but not against WFP and UNICEF. Bowden called these statements "propagandist in nature" since, he said, UNPOS and UNDP weren't then working in the areas Shabaab referred to. He called it unfortunate, as it appears to have sidelined DSS. Could this explain Somali's increasing allegation that the UN is using military contractors?

UN's Mark Bowden, no service in Johar, mercenaries and promised FSMAU report not shown

  While Bowden scoffed that it would be nearly impossible for the UN to use military contractors, Inner City Press when it inquired into the UN's operations in Basra in Iraq was told:

Subj: your question on security in Basra
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: matthew.lee [at]
Sent: 9/2/2009 4:27:08 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

In Basra, where the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq has a small presence, UNAMI has occasionally used in the past private security guards (who were also providing security to the UK diplomats) to escort UN staff to meetings with the local Iraqi officials at the civilian side of the airport. That was paid through a support agreement with the UK, which was responsible for security in Basra at the time.

  So, contrary to what Mr. Bowden said, it is not so difficult for the UN to use / benefit from military contractors. But who might be performing this role in Somalia?

Footnote: While USAID canceled both of its press availabilities, and WFP canceled on September 22, it is hoped that further information can be obtained outside of New York on September 25, and beyond. Regarding USAID there are other questions regarding, for example, Afghanistan and Bolivia. Watch this site.

* * *

UN Aid Diversion in Somalia Portrayed as Inevitable, Murky Investigation by WFP

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 16 -- Amid allegations that UN aid funds are being diverted in Somalia, leading to reported threats by the United Kingdom and U.S. to cut or condition their funding, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked top UN humanitarian John Holmes what the UN is doing.

  Holmes said that the World Food Program has begun an internal investigation, and that he doesn't know how long it will take. He said it is mostly the U.S. that is concerned -- others name the UK first -- and that other donors just keep on giving. He said there is little choice but to continue. Video here, from Minute 28:26.

   Since the allegations focus on particular trucking companies that are being used, and their links to entities on anti-terrorism lists, Inner City Press asked Holmes what is being done about this, since such diversion would violate, in some cases, legal prohibitions. Holmes said that WFP is diversifying the number of trucking firms it works with. He did not address the legal question. (As reported earlier today, the UN's top legal refuses to answer questions other than on the narrow topics for which she appears for press conferences: today, the UN Treaty Event).

   In a sense, there is not a contradiction between taking seriously and acting on these allegations of diversion of funds, and wanting the programs to continue. In fact, diversion leads to a lack of credibility, and ultimately hurts the programs' beneficiaries more.

UN's Ban gets award from WFP's Sheeran, diversion of UN aid in Somalia not shown

   Merely referring problems to internal investigations, the time frame of which knows no limits, also hurts the UN's credibility, as has happened this summer in the months old investigation of the head of the UN's Congo Mission Alan Doss asking the UN Development Program for "leeway" to hire his daughter. It was relegated to an internal investigation, and nothing has been done. When during the summer's G-8 meeting WFP spent $400,000 to fly in children from Ghana for a "simulated feeding demonstration" for the G-8 leaders' spouses, neither Ban Ki-moon nor John Holmes for OCHA said there was anything wrong with this. This too undermines confidence in the UN, including by donors.

  Note: There's other things going on beneath this WFP corruption story, Inner City Press' Somali sources say: the use by the US and, contra Holmes, UK of food as a weapon, embargoing or problematizing food aid to areas controlled by Al Shabaab. As one source puts it, "to kill the fish, you have to drain the water, right?" We will have more on this.

* * *

In Somalia, UN Manufactures Consent As AMISOM Shoots Camels as Insurgents

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 15 -- The UN, which nearly invariably uses as a defense against inaction on human rights abuses that only works in countries upon invitation, views Somalia through a different prism, it seems. How else to explain the dismissive response of the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, to questions that have arise about the work of UN envoy Ahmedou Ould Abdallah after his Norway-funded, Kenya-drafted Law of the Sea filing about rights to Somalia's continental shelf was roundly rejected by Somalia's parliament?

  Inner City Press asked about that, and other questions that have arisen about the legitimacy of the multinational naval presence off Somalia's coast under a UN Security Council resolution based on a letter signed right at, or past, then President Yusuf's last day in (appointed) power. Video here, from Minute 1:05.

  Pascoe replied breezily that Ould Abdallah is so "activist" that it is not surprising that some people don't like it. But if those people include the majority of Somali parliamentarians, isn't that a problem for the UN? Pascoe replied that the former President -- presumably Yussuf -- really wanted the UN in the country.

  To paraphrase Pascoe about surprise, it is not surprising that rulers who have never been directly elected by the people welcome outside forces which treat and support them as legitimate. Some Somalis were found, as a fig leaf, to invite in the Ethiopian forces in 2006. Recently, the AMISOM force which took over from the Ethiopians mistakenly shot and killed a group of camels just outside the barbed wire fence around Adan Ade airport in Mogadishu, mistaking them for "insurgents."

The camels shot by AMISOM as insurgents

  AMISON's spokesperson, Barigye Ba-hoku, told the press that "It was our new forces and they were not aware of the camels’ movements. They say they were attacked, and so opened fire," 

  Inner City Press has asked the UN what its role with AMISOM is, whether it provides ammunition and training, and what it thinks of the camel killing incident. Watch this site.

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

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

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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

* * *

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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