Somalia: UN looks to Istanbul forum as key step to aid war-torn nation

12 May 2010

On the eve of a major global conference on Somalia, the top United Nations envoy in the war-torn nation urged the world community to provide the needed resources on the military, political and humanitarian fronts now to prevent an even worse scenario from arising.

“If we do not make the right commitments and take the right action in Somalia now, the situation will, sooner or later, force us to act and at a much higher price,” Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah told the Security Council, as he presented Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the situation in the Horn of Africa nation.

Speaking on the same day that the UN refugee agency called for stepped-up funding to help the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting in what he called a “horrendous” humanitarian situation, Mr. Ould-Abdallah praised next week’s conference in Istanbul as “an exceptional opportunity to show that Somalia has true friends ready to make a difference…

“This conference is first and foremost a show of political solidarity with the Somali people who have suffered so much and been taken hostage by various groups and individuals,” the envoy said, referring to the gathering to be convened by the Turkish Government and Mr. Ban on 22 May.

“It is also a sign of hope sent to Somalis that they are not alone. In addition to addressing security issues and global threats including piracy, the conference will also provide a platform for the Somali private sector, international business and Governments to launch new initiatives for reconstruction and job creation.”

Despite suggestions that it is either too early or too late for such a high level meeting, “we should all recognize that, after years of anarchy, there will never be a right time in Somalia. We have to act, and to act now,” he added of a country that has had no central government and has been torn by factional conflict for nearly two decades.

The top UN political official also stressed the importance of the Istanbul meeting today. “We would not at any time, of course, underestimate the difficulties and the fragility of Somalia but we do believe that progress has been and can be built upon,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told a news conference.

He cited the survival of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against numerous attacks, its first steps towards developing its own police and security forces, and the interest it has aroused in the Somali business community and in bringing back investment to the country.

“This effort has to succeed but is clearly going to require determined, sustained efforts by both the Somalis and the international community to make it happen,” he said. “This is where the Istanbul conference fits in. It will give an opportunity to look at how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done. It should help us increase international awareness of what’s at stake in Somalia and increase international commitment to help in a coordinated way.

“It should also help focus the attention of the Somalis themselves, including the TFG, on where they need to step up their efforts.”

On the military front, Mr. Ould-Abdallah called for a big increase in and help for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which now numbers less than 7,000 troops, as it carries out its task of protecting the TFG institutions and assisting the needy in the face of violent attacks from Islamic militants. At the same time, the international community should provide equipment and salaries for the TFG’s own nascent forces.

In the political field, he urged the TFG to show unity and a common purpose, calling on the international community to fulfil its commitments, especially by disbursing pledged resources. He noted that the TFG had succeeded in reaching out to other groups committed to peace, signing an accord with Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, a key religious and resistance movement, which could provide a blueprint for future agreements.

“I would like to reiterate that the door of peace is open to all Somalis wishing to end the agony of their country,” stressed Mr. Ould-Abdallah, who serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

On the humanitarian front, where the situation “remains horrendous” despite the laudable work of the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies, he called for full cooperation between Governments, development agencies, business associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), urging the agencies to again show a physical presence in the violence-shattered land.

“If we want to make a decisive difference, there is no alternative to moving the international community to Mogadishu to be closer to the victims,” he stressed. “The remote control from Nairobi (capital of neighbouring Kenya) is not leading to progress.”

Once this close collaboration is established, it can lead to a major move away from past practices of managing the status quo. “In that context, the Istanbul conference comes at the right time,” Mr. Ould-Abdallah declared. “It shows the Somalis and their leaders that there are personalities, countries and organizations that are genuinely ready and committed to working with them for peace and stability.”

In Geneva today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched two supplementary appeals totalling $60 million for the nearly 2 million Somalis displaced both inside and outside their country, bringing its total budget for 2010 for Somalia and its four neighbouring countries – Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti – to nearly $425 million.

“The displacement crisis is worsening with the deterioration of the situation inside Somalia and we need to prepare fast for new and possibly large-scale displacement,” Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff said. “We need to be ready.”


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