UN team arrives to force open Somali aid corridors




Victims dying in hundreds from hunger and disease

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 7 August 1992

A high-powered United Nations technical team sent by the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros­Ghali, arrived in the war-tom Somali capital Mogadishu yesterday with the aim of improving security for relief workers and food convoys, which are regularly held up at gunpoint by members of the country’s warring factions.

The 24-strong team, led by Peter Hansen of the UN’s newly created department of humanitarian affairs, met the country’s self-styled president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, soon after arriving at Mogadishu airport, which is controlled by Mr Mahdi’s rival clan chief, General Mohamed Farah Aideed.

In Nairobi, the UN secretary­ general’s special representative for Somalia, admitted the move was nine months too late. “If only we had intervened before November. Because of that delay we now pay the price,” the envoy, Mohamed Sahnoun, said.

A senior UN official Said the mission would be a rubber stamp for sending in a planned 500-strong multinational UN peace monitoring force to guard the convoys whether “faction leaders like it or not.

“Their mandate will be exactly the same as that in Sarajevo,” he said, meaning they will not look into political and human rights questions at all.

The team will meet all the main faction leaders – whose political and military conflict has now brought 1.5 million people to the point of starvation – has left Mogadishu in ruins and totally destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

Due to its slow response to the crisis, UN staff in Mogadishu are seen by other relief workers as lacking a sufficiently realistic understanding of the seriousness of the security situation.

While meetings with the faction leaders may result in promises from those leaders with regard to UN security, the faction leaders themselves have yet to prove that they can prevent the looting which is the only means of securing food for public and fighters alike.

“The planned peace force will be attacked and will have to fight back. Somalia will make Sarajevo look like a tea party,” said one relief worker. “But it would be folly for other relief organisations not to work with the UN, despite the strength of feeling about the slow pace at which they have done things up until now.”

The UN has earmarked 64,000 tonnes of food for shipment to Somalia, but only one-third has arrived, despite the entire country of 7.3 million people being totally reliant on emergency food aid.

The UN brokered a ceasefire between the two leaders three months ago, but has been largely unable to follow up the fragile peace with the massive amounts of food aid which are needed.

The total breakdown of security throughout the country has led to thousands of pounds worth of relief food being methodically stolen. Aid workers travel the country with armed guards, in fear of their lives or having their cars and food convoys stolen.

The prospect of a UN military presence, with 500 troops from Pakistan and Indonesia waiting on stand-by for a possible arrival in the city, has aroused strong objections from Gen Aideed. He has demanded that the UN instead train a 6,000-strong Somali police force to restore order, saying that he would view the .UN troops as a force of occupation.

A 48-strong unarmed UN multinational military observer team has been in the city for two weeks, but has not left its compound due to logistical problems – its fleet of cars is still lying in Kenya’s Mombasa port awaiting shipment.

Despite the obvious danger armed UN troops would be in if they came under fire from clan chiefs who have a free hand in the theft of food and the awarding of lucrative transport contracts for relief supplies, troops for a UN force have already been pledged by Canada.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Ottawa said on Wednesday: “We would seriously consider any request, because we are so concerned about the plight of the Somalian people.”


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