Somalis pay price of UN 'shambles'

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SAVE the Children Fund, the biggest British charity operating in Somalia, yesterday attacked United Nations relief efforts as a 'shambles' that has cost thousands of Somali lives.

Nicholas Hinton, the charity's director-general, said lack of UN leadership was obstructing the effort. He released the text of a letter he has sent to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, urging him to visit Somalia to 'provide the essential leadership that is so desperately lacking'.

A clearly frustrated Mr Hinton told a London news conference: 'The UN, in terms of its life after the Cold War, is a shambles. If you look at Somalia, what you see is an ill-equipped, ill-informed and uncoordinated response. The UN and the international community should have acted months ago. Lack of attention and lack of planning have already cost thousands of lives.'

Unless the UN were urgently reformed, thousands more lives would be lost in Somalia and in crises elsewhere, including Mozambique, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yugoslavia, he said. 'Mozambique could become another Somalia if the UN fails to help when the effects of the drought begin to bite hard.'

The activities of the United Nations Childrens Fund (Unicef), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme were so uncoordinated that they created obstacles. A single UN agency should be appointed for relief efforts to address humanitarian, security and political problems as a whole.

Mike Aaronson, Save the Children's overseas director, who is just back from Somalia, attacked the UN's 'generalities and pious hopes . . . and a shameful degree of infighting between UN agencies who pursue their own interests. It is already too late to save the lives of perhaps several hundred thousand people. What we see now is the result of 18 months of dismal failure by the UN and international community as a whole.'

The UN has announced it is sending 3,000 more armed troops to Somalia to guard food supplies, in addition to 500 already on their way. The decision was made hours after gunmen backed by tanks raided UN supplies in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, making off with 199 barrels of vital fuel and 25 truckloads of relief food. Two unarmed UN military observers were shot and wounded in the attack.

Three US Hercules transport planes based in Kenya flew in a further 28 tonnes of rice, beans and cooking oil to the town of Belet Huen yesterday, the second day of a US airlift. As they arrived, however, frustrated International Red Cross officials at the town's airstrip said a local armed gang had so far prevented them from transporting the food to soup kitchens in the town.