Humanitarian workers in Somalia – where the local head of the United Nations food agency was abducted earlier this week by Government forces – are impeded in their efforts to deliver aid and operate in a climate of “suspicion,” a world body official said today.
“The situation is always difficult in Somalia, has always been difficult and is probably going to be still difficult for some time,” said Eric Laroche, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, told reporters in New York.
He said that an upswing in violence among the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and other parties has resulted in “suspicion” from all sides towards the work of the humanitarian community in the Horn of Africa nation, which has had no functioning central government since Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime was toppled in 1991.
Mr. Laroche pointed out that the most recent example of this occurred on 17 October, when Idris Osman of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was taken from a UN compound in Mogadishu.
According to WFP, dozens of uniformed and armed members of the country’s National Security Service (NSS) stormed the Organization’s compound, seized Mr. Osman and took him to a cell at NSS headquarters, where he remains captive.
So far, the WFP has not received any explanation for why Mr. Osman – who told two agency officials over the telephone yesterday that he is unharmed – is being detained.
Negotiations, Mr. Laroche said today, are at a “standstill,” stressing that this is a particularly difficult period to hold discussions with the Government because Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi is currently out of the country and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and also because of a possible vote of confidence at the Parliament in Baidoa.
WFP has suspended its operations in Mogadishu following Mr. Osman’s abduction, after only having resumed delivering food to 75,000 on 15 October. The agency had shut its operations down on 25 June after several fatal shootings.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the incursion and called for Mr. Osman’s “immediate and unconditional release,” noting the Somali Government’s actions are in violation of international agreements.
The head of WFP today also deplored Mr. Osman’s detainment.
“It has become extremely difficult for us to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people in Mogadishu and throughout Somalia. We are operating in an environment which is fraught with insecurity: piracy, banditry and widespread violence. We need the government to protect humanitarian workers,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
Several months ago, the Coordinator visited Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of the capital Mogadishu, where the UN estimated that 100,000 people had been forced to flee the violence.
“The Government was saying that that was not acceptable and that was probably a wrong statement which meant that we were not telling the truth,” he said at today’s briefing. “But unfortunately we are saying the truth.”
Mr. Laroche said that during his assessment of the area to visit the internally displaced persons (IDPs), he was constantly harassed and told by pro-Government parties, “you should not be here.”
Furthermore, he said he was trailed all the way back to the airport at the conclusion of his visit by the intelligence services.
Upon visiting the director of the country’s intelligence service, Mr. Laroche said that he was told that “if we go into zones that are not under the TFG control, we are feeding the terrorists.”
But, the Coordinator noted, the IDPs he met with in Afgooye – who were mostly women and children – included an orphaned eight-year-old girl who had lost not only her parents and sister, but also her arm. He stressed that “she is not a terrorist.”