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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

7 March 2005

The international humanitarian effort in Somalia, particularly in those areas affected by last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami, had moved very slowly and the Somali people felt that they had been “as usual left at the bottom of the chain”, Winston Tubman, Head of the United Nations Political Office in Somalia, said at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Responding to a question from a correspondent, he noted that the country had lost 300 people in the disaster. In addition to those deaths and the disruption of the fishing industry, Somalis were suffering from the effects of toxic and other wastes that had washed up on Somalia’s shores after having been dumped off the Somali coast over the past decade since the collapse of the country’s Government, which had left it wracked by factional fighting. The Somalis had called for international support and the international community was aware of the problem, but the level of support must be raised.

Mr. Tubman, who was briefing journalists on the Secretary-General’s new report on Somalia, said he was in New York to take part in Security Council consultations. While at Headquarters, he would also be going through a debriefing because his assignment as Head of the United Nations Political Office in Somalia would be coming to a close and his present visit to Headquarters would be his last in that capacity.

Emphasizing that a new hour of need was upon Somalia, he said that the international community could be doing more to help the country achieve lasting peace. Many people agreed that the international community had failed Somalia as the country disintegrated into anarchy at the beginning of the 1990s, while others argued that Somalis were themselves responsible for that failure. Whichever the case, since that time there had been very little basis for hope.

As the Secretary-General report, made clear, the security situation remained fragile, he said. Intermittent fighting continued, fuelled by competition between factions and extensive violations of the international arms embargo imposed by the Security Council. The capital, Mogadishu, was particularly insecure, and it could not be said that either peace or reconciliation had been achieved, or that the fighting inside the country had ceased.

At the same time, a fledgling peace process had pointed a way out of the morass of conflict, drought and famine that had ravaged Somalia for many years now, he said. Last October, the Somali National Reconciliation Conference had concluded successfully with the swearing in of a new president and a declaration by all clans and factions represented that they would support him and demobilize their militias. A prime minister had been appointed and a broadly representative cabinet formed.

Now, that Transitional Federal Government, based currently in Nairobi, was, against very great odds, trying to return to Somalia, he said, adding that just last week, its leaders had been in the country, where they had been warmly received by the Somali people while on a brief tour. While it would be up to the Somalis to take the lead in building a better future, the international community could be doing more to help Somalia achieve lasting peace in the ways outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.

Among the report’s recommendations, improving security was foremost, he said. That had several components, including a cessation of hostilities by all factions, which should enter into immediate negotiations for a comprehensive ceasefire. Second was the need for stronger enforcement of the arms embargo, and third was United Nations support for the African Union in the planning of a protection force. Although some Somalis had expressed concerns and reservations, it was to be hoped that the concerns could be addressed and the reservations overcome.

Humanitarian access was another important area in which improvements were needed, he stressed. Adding to the chronic problem of displacement caused by fighting, Somalia had also been hit by recurrent drought and the tsunami had affected 18,000 households, in addition to the 300 deaths. Aid workers needed much stronger guarantees that they would be safe and secure. The prevailing and insecurity and violence continued to prevent the United Nations from implementing programmes in large areas of the country. With better security, many more people in need could be reached.

The report also recommended a stronger international accompaniment of the peace process through an expanded United Nations political presence to help Somalis implement their agreements, he said. Such a role would include assisting in dialogue among Somali parties for reconciliation; coordinating support for the peace process with Somalia’s neighbours and other international partners; chairing a Coordination and Monitoring Committee, as well as playing a leading political role in peace-building activities; and assisting in efforts to address the issues of the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Asked what he would be doing in Liberia after leaving the United Nations, Mr. Tubman said he would be a candidate for president.

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