Ministers 'to attack' EC security aid plan: Somalia funds may be used for logistical support

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Commission will today put forward controversial proposals aimed at diverting money from a Third World aid plan and channelling it into logistical and military support for relief convoys in Somalia.

UK ministers are expected to 'shoot the plan down in flames', according to one source, while the independent Overseas Development Institute warned that its acceptance could open a Pandora's box of EC military intervention.

The plans were submitted yesterday by Manuel Marin, Commissioner for Development and Co-operation, at a private meeting of the Commission. It is understood he was acting at the request of Willy Claes, the Belgian deputy prime minister and foreign minister, because of the difficulties Belgian troops, who form the United Nations presence in Somalia, are encountering.

European Development Fund grants for Somalia totalling dollars 150m ( pounds 75m) are being held in limbo by the EC because of the lack of a recognised government in the region. It is thought these would form the backbone of the proposed additional support, but their use, in logistical support and armed security projects undertaken by the UN, would be contrary to their intended purpose.

A senior EC source said: 'It was concluded that we would try to explore the possibility for the Community to contribute to the finance of logistical support. Usually, we can only finance food and emergency medical assistance but here we are considering providing help for UN troops also.

'For example, we may pay for the cost of military transport or food for UN troops, but for that, there must be agreement between member states.'

Approaches are expected to be made at ambassadorial level in Brussels today but one official said: 'I understand UK ministers want to shoot it down in flames. This was not what the money was intended for.'

The money is available under projects initiated as part of the Lome Convention in which the EC developed cultural links and agreed to provide development assistance to 69 African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

There has been growing concern in Brussels that only one- third of the 185,000 tonnes of cereal earmarked for Somalia this year has been able to reach its destination because of poor transport links, corruption and violence in the capital, Mogadishu, and raids by gunmen en route to delivery points.

Adrian Hewitt, deputy director of the Overseas Development Institute, said: 'It would be dreadful for money set aside for development assistance projects to be spent in any type of military or security operation. If it were approved, it would be very likely that the EC Court of Auditors and the European Parliament would come down like a ton of bricks on those spending the money.

'The Commission has no mandate to do something like this. It has no budget for security operations in Third World countries. Getting involved in this way would be like opening a Pandora's box where member states have an interest.'

The Government's Overseas Development Administration said it had yet to formally study the proposals, but a spokeswoman said: 'It appears that it would not be a military operation; it would simply involve bringing in troops to transport and protect food.'

Mike Aaronson, overseas director of the Save the Children Fund, declined to discuss the proposals, but said: 'This is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions and it calls for unprecedented measures.'