UN chief under pressure to reappoint famine envoy

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 30 October 1992

PRESSURE was last night mounting on the United Nations secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to reappoint his special envoy to Somalia, who resigned yesterday after he was publicly rebuked for criticising UN handling of the country’s famine relief programme.

Britain was due to lead a delegation of European Community ambassadors to the UN to try to persuade Mr Boutros-Ghali to reappoint the envoy, Mohammed Sahnoun.

Mr Sahnoun was publicly criticised by the secretary-general on Monday for persistently saying that UN operations in Somalia, where up to two million people are in danger of dying from starvation due to the civil war, had been too slow and inadequate even after the scale of the catastrophe had become clear.

Mr Sahnoun said yesterday he had written to Mr Boutros-Ghali offering to stay on as head of Somalia’s relief programme, but had received no response. Arriving in Nairobi from Mogadishu, he said he was “disappointed generally” with the “lack of support and a lack of imagination” shown by the UN hierarchy.

Since being appointed special envoy in April, Mr Sahnoun had earned a reputation as an extremely patient diplomat, able to negotiate with Somalia’s often callous and untrustworthy faction leaders. He secured agreements to allow a multinational food airlift to begin, and the deployment of UN troops to guard food convoys.

A UN source said yesterday that Mr Sahnoun’s departure was a serious blow for the organisation and for Mr Boutros-Ghali’s leadership. “Most people in the UN have come down on the side of Sahnoun, as the bureaucracy he had to cope with is pretty awful,” the source said. “It will be bad for Boutros-Ghali as, whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, he is getting a reputation for being pretty hard on his staff.”

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