Relief Agencies in Somalia Back Away from Close UN Ties
NAIROBI, SOMALIA — RELIEF agency officials are calling for a switch from military attacks to diplomacy in the Somali crisis, as controversy continues to swirl around the actions of Pakistani peacekeepers.
US-led air attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, have halted relief and development efforts there and in outlying areas. More attacks, relief officials warn, could endanger future agency work by further antagonizing Somalis, encouraging attacks on Westerners.
Public protests after the air strikes have brought large crowds into the streets. On Sunday, Pakistani troops opened fire on a crowd from a rooftop position, reportedly killing 14 protesters.
Pakistani soldiers should be withdrawn from their patrol duties in the streets of the capital because they are "too emotional [and] don't have restraint," says Mike McDonagh, director of relief and development programs operated by Irish Concern in Somalia. A Pakistani officer said Sunday his troops had the right to fire on a crowd if they felt threatened.
"It's time to talk," he said yesterday from Mogadishu, adding: "There's been too much bloodshed." Mr. McDonagh's views were echoed by other relief agency officials contacted in Nairobi and Mogadishu.
McDonagh was one of the few relief officials to support military retaliation of some kind for the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers June 5, allegedly by the faction of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. But now McDonagh warns that General Aideed should not be arrested or "you might have 10 little Aideeds coming up" and even more instability and public protests.
Meanwhile, Aideed, the warlord whose faction is the target of the UN reprisals, has played for public sympathy in the wake of the attacks on his arms depots. He has visited local hospitals to see the victims of the Pakistani shootings and called on President Clinton to stop the killing. Having lost ground both geographically and politically in recent months, Aideed may now feel he has an issue that will help him recoup popular support.
Relief agencies are trying to distance themselves from what they see as the tarred image of the UN in Somalia because of the US attacks and Pakistani killings. "We decided not to work with UNOSOM [United Nations Operations in Somalia] in the future because the image UNOSOM is going to have in the future is terribly bad," says Jordi Raich, coordinator for the Spanish chapter of Doctors Without Borders. "It will be even more dangerous to travel with UNOSOM than to travel without an escort," he adds.
UN troops have been providing escorts to relief agencies traveling outside Mogadishu. Within the city, the UN has allowed agencies to hire gunmen as escorts.
But most foreign relief personnel evacuated Mogadishu last week. Now, say Mr. Raich and Howard Bell, interim director of Care's programs in Somalia, Pakistani soldiers are stopping the local staff of the relief agencies and taking their permitted guns away unless there is a "white" person in the car. "So our projects are stopped," says Raich.
Further criticism of the UNOSOM program in Somalia came yesterday in a statement issued to the press by Care.
The agency accused the UN of being "partisan." Mr. Bell cited the World Food Programme's effort June 14 to deliver relief food to the northern part of Mogadishu, which is controlled by a warlord rival of Aideed, Mohamed Ali Mahdi.
Delivery to the northern side of the city, which has not been hit by the air strikes nor been the scene of protests, "is more practical" than trying to distribute food in the tense southern, Aideed-controlled side of the city, says Bell. But it sends a partisan political signal to Somalis, Bell claims: Bomb one faction, feed the other.
Jordi claims UNOSOM has failed to unify the capitol, due to lack of political initiative and lack of an aggressive disarmament policy. Bell says UNOSOM has failed "to get sufficient numbers of high-quality people" in key UNOSOM jobs.
A UNOSOM political official declined to respond to questions from the Monitor in a call to Mogadishu yesterday. A UNOSOM spokesman in Nairobi, who was difficult to reach in his office, abruptly ended a telephone interview last week before questions could be posed.