Aid Groups Say Security Needed to Protect Relief Workers in Somalia
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United Nations must rush security forces to Somalia to protect relief workers or they may be forced to pull out of the devastated African nation, a coalition of aid groups said today.
The U.N. has allowed itself to be stymied by local warlords who are asserting sovereignty over ports and feeding centers, the groups said at a news conference.
″It’s absolutely crazy,″ said John Hammock of Oxfam America, one of more than two dozen organizations providing aid in Somalia. The groups, under the umbrella coalition InterAction, issued a statement calling for immediate increased security and for U.S. leadership in providing it.
″At a time when Americans are having Thanksgiving, sitting down to turkey dinners, we are asking sufficient security so we can get a bowl of rice ... to the people of Somalia so they will not starve to death,″ Hammock said.
Meanwhile, a U.N.-chartered ship carrying about 10,000 tons of food for the starving in Somalia was struck by a shell as it approached Mogadishu’s harbor today, aid officials said. The vessel turned back to sea. It was not known if there were any casualties.
The ship was one of three ships that had been forced to wait off Mogadishu for more than a week because of a dispute between the two warlords who control the city.
The situation cannot wait for a new administration to take power in Washington, the groups said. Estimates are that some tens of thousands will die by the end of the year unless basic food, shelter and medical care can get through.
Aid shipments routinely are hijacked by bandits who operate freely in a country where civil authority has collapsed. On Monday, a band of teen-agers armed with anti-aircraft guns halted a U.N. plane on a runway and robbed the relief workers on board. Several relief workers have been killed over the past year.
″If there is no security in Somalia, then relief organizations will not be able to continue to perform their functions,″ Hammock said after a news conference at the Capitol.
Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., who just returned from Somalia, said donor nations are providing plenty of food, but the prevalence of violence prevents it from being delivered to those in need.
Some 3,500 U.N. troops have been authorized to provide security for relief shipments, but have not been deployed because of inability to negotiate agreements with individual clans that control various parts of the disintegrated country.
″It’s just an intolerable situation,″ Emerson said. ″There is no civil authority in Somalia. None.″ For the United Nations to worry about getting permission to place security troops at ports and feeding centers makes no sense, he said.
″How can there be sovereignty when there’s total anarchy?″ Emerson asked.
Susan Nealis, who is affiliated with a French anti-hunger group, said theft of food makes aid organizations continually reassess whether they are becoming part of the problem. Some stolen food, she said, is sold in Ethiopia to finance weapons purchases.