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As Aid Efforts Pick Up Speed, The Fingerpointing Begins With AM-Somalia, Bjt

August 22, 1992

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Now that the world’s conscience has been pricked by its delay at helping starving Somalia and aid efforts are gathering speed, the fingerpointing has begun.

The United States began a food airlift Friday to the Horn of Africa nation, joining Britain, France and Italy in offering direct aid. Germany plans to follow suit, and aid from other nations is expected.

But humanitarian agencies that have been struggling for months to ward off catastrophe question why the help has come so late.

″Clearly, (Washington) did act hastily,″ Smith Hempstone, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, said in an interview Saturday. ″But they acted hastily to meet a perceived need.

″You may fairly ask why we did not start earlier. Perhaps people were focused on other things. Yugoslavia, for one thing.″

The United Nations, among the most criticized for a tardy response to the crisis, says 1.5 million to 2 million Somalis - out of a population of 8.4 million - will die within weeks unless they receive food.

But it was U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who spurred the sudden flow of aid when he criticized the Security Council a month ago for paying too much attention to ″a rich man’s″ war in former Yugoslavia, at Somalia’s expense.

Christina Fedele, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, said Saturday that her organization raised an alarm about the impending disaster last December.

″We saw very well the situation eight months ago″ and advised governments and the United Nations, she said. ″Nobody moved.″

The Red Cross has distributed 88,000 tons of food in Somalia this year at a cost of $150 million, one-third of its entire 1992 budget. But it has just a handful of workers trying to contain a famine spreading like wildfire through a country larger than France.

U.N. personnel returned to Somalia in late March after two warlords battling in the capital, Mogadishu, signed a cease-fire that ended nearly five months of heavy clan fighting. The rivalry flared after they ousted President Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991.

The Red Cross remained in the country even after the United Nations and all foreign embassies withdrew their staffs last November because of the danger.

Mohamed Sahnoun, Boutros-Ghali’s special representative to Somalia, has suggested that some of the U.N. personnel sent to Somalia after the United Nations decided to return were ″third-raters.″

The U.N. airlift began only a week ago, with the flight of a single chartered C-130 Hercules cargo plane to the south-central town of Baidoa.

Sahnoun recently told reporters of watching two ships being unloaded at Mogadishu’s port by the Red Cross and an organization he declined to name.

″At the dock where the Red Cross was working everything was smooth,″ Sahnoun said. ″But where the other agency was working it was total chaos.″

The unidentified agency, reporters learned later, was the World Food Program, the Rome-based U.N. organization charged with collecting and distributing donor food.

The American airlift, based in Kenya’s Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, has been criticized by the Kenyan government and some aid agencies as uncoordinated and hastily conceived.

The U.S. military insists its job is simply to deliver the food, not to guard it from marauding militias and brigands or help in its distribution.

Hempstone said he and Marine Brig. Gen. Frank Libutti, who commands the U.S. airlift, have met with representatives of the Red Cross, the United Nations, CARE and other agencies, and denied the U.S. effort is uncoordinated.

″It is not our plan to move more food than the (non-governmental organizations) can distribute,″ Hempstone said.

But looting by heavily armed bands of young men is so prevalent that some aid workers estimate that up to half of all the food delivered so far this year has been stolen. The U.N. plans to send 3,000 troops to help ensure deliveries.

Until they arrive, the flow of food threatens to overwhelm aid workers.

Said the Red Cross’s Fedele: ″All is welcome now, but it’s not possible for ICRC to coordinate. We deliver 20,000 tons every month. It’s not possible for us to do more.″

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