Relief workers in Somalia reject more UN troops


Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 10 September 1992


STRONG objections to an expanded United Nations military presence in Somalia were raised yesterday by French and Dutch relief workers, who fear a further break-down of security if an extra 3,000 UN troops are sent to guard relief food as planned.

Last night officials from the relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said the increased UN presence would jeopardise security arrangements the agencies have already developed with Somalia’s warring factions.

All relief agencies employ Somali guards to protect convoys and warehouses. If the UN took over this role, these guards would lose their jobs and status.

Rony Brauman, president of MSF-France, said last night that security was not the main priority of the agencies, as had been alleged. He said: “The top priority is food and its distribution, and we have the feeling that more violence might erupt from the presence of UN troops whose presence has not been accepted by the factions.”

The Somali National Alliance led by General Mohamed Farah Aideed has already said it will not accept more UN troops. It was only after lengthy negotiations that it agreed to the 500 personnel who are about to arrive.

However, the UN special envoy to Somalia, Mohamed Sahnoun, is developing a plan to deliver aid by dividing the country into four zones. These would rely on four ports to provide food and would need protection by UN forces. Mr Sahnoun is therefore under pressure from UN officials in New York to negotiate for the extra troops.

Meanwhile, most of the relief agencies, including MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross, believe that the key to the security problem is more food, not more troops. Food is the backbone of the Somali economy. Armed gangs control its arrival at ports and distribution within the country, and steal hundreds of tonnes.

MSF believes that increasing availability of food, thereby decreasing its market value, would reduce tension by making it less profitable to steal and to risk being shot in the frequent gun-battles over food which break out at the ports.

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