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As Somalia fighting flares, Annan calls African leaders while envoy urges Council to act


As Somalia fighting flares, Annan calls African leaders while envoy urges Council to act

With conflict in Somalia now involving Ethiopian air strikes and hundreds of wounded, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today telephoned Ethiopia’s Prime Minster and Kenya’s leader to try and halt the escalating violence, while the UN envoy to the war-ravaged country urged the Security Council to call on all sides to immediately halt the fighting.

This morning, Mr. Annan spoke by phone with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and also with Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, who had recently visited Somalia, his spokesman said in New York.

Later in the day, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonsény Fall, gave a sombre briefing to the 15-member Security Council and ended with a warning of the possible regional consequences should the fighting between the country’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) escalate.

“I… [urge] Council members to call on the two sides to halt the fighting immediately and not to take any further provocative actions. All sides to the Somali conflict must also be urged to… return to dialogue, without preconditions,” he said, highlighting that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already registered 760 war wounded, amid reports also of “several deaths and injuries” to civilians.

“Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia …will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region,” Mr. Fall said.

Today’s telephone calls by Mr. Annan and the briefing to the Council are the latest diplomatic efforts following increasingly strong statements last week as the violence between the TFG and the UIC has escalated in Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

Acknowledging that Ethiopia admitted on Christmas Eve the presence of its troops in Somalia, as part of “self-defensive measures” against extremist forces of the UIC and foreign terrorist groups, Mr. Fall also spoke of reports mentioning the presence of Eritrean forces on the side of the Islamic Courts, although Eritrea has consistently denied this.

He also said the fighting has “severely undermined” the provision of relief assistance to 2 million conflict- and flood-affected people in South-Central Somalia, noting that all UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) international staff had been evacuated. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is planning to meet Kenyan authorities on Wednesday to discuss the increasing number of refugees there, in a country that is already hosting 35,000 new Somali refugees.

Depending on security and access issues, he said UN agencies and partner NGOs will attempt to deliver assistance to all new internally displaced persons by working through national staff and local organizations, but he stressed the importance of bringing both sides back to the negotiating table.

Today in Geneva, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed deep concern over the worsening conflict in Somalia, warning that further displacement in the Horn of Africa could severely strain already overstretched relief efforts.

“I appeal to all sides in this conflict to respect humanitarian principles and protect civilian populations,” Mr. Guterres said. “Relief workers in the region are already struggling to contend with huge obstacles, including security and natural disasters. The last thing we and the people of Somalia need is yet another round of massive displacement.”

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) started dropping food into Somalia and Kenya from aircraft over the weekend, expanding its land, water and air campaign, to help more than a million people suffering because of floods cutting roads and spreading sickness.

But WFP urgently needs $6.7 million for its $16.6 million Special Operation to deliver food and other humanitarian aid by airlift, airdrops and helicopter.

Mr. Fall, noting that the League of Arab States had also appealed for the Somali parties to return to talks, said the African Union Commission had reiterated its calls for an end to hostilities, while also scheduling a meeting to discuss the worsening violence for Wednesday in Addis Ababa.

“While neither side has completely rejected a return to dialogue, it has so far not been possible to reconcile the pre-conditions introduced by both parties for the resumption of the talks. It should be recalled that disagreements on various pre-conditions between the… TFG and UIC resulted in the postponement of the third round of Khartoum talks in October,” Mr. Fall lamented.