Somalia plan gets guarded welcome

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The Independent Online
NAIROBI - Aid workers and relief organisations gave a guarded welcome yesterday to United Nations plans to send 500 armed guards to ensure food reaches millions of starving Somalis.

But they said it was only a small step on what will be a very long road towards resolving the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and they urged the UN to accelerate plans for a huge famine relief operation for the country.

'Nothing will solve the problem overnight, but anything which improves security is to be welcomed,' said Tony Knight of the Save the Children Fund. 'The main thing, however, still remains flooding the country with food.'

But most stressed the Blue Berets would need their hands free to do the job properly. 'They will be shot at and will have to be able to return fire,' one aid worker said. 'The mandate they (the UN Security Council) gives them will be critical.'

In Washington yesterday, President George Bush offered US military aircraft to fly the UN troops to Somalia. The White House press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, said that, in addition, the US 'will be intensifying our efforts in the days and weeks to come' in helping Somalia.

The UN special representative for Somalia, Mohamed Sahnoun, signed a landmark deal with the Mogadishu warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed, on Wednesday for 500 troops to control Mogadishu port and escort food to stop hundreds of people dying each day. Mr Sahnoun made clear the UN troops would not be peace-keepers and said the Security Council would have to meet to decide their mandate.

Rakiya Omaar, of the American-based human rights organisation Africa Watch, said the priority must be to get the troops dispatched to the war-ravaged country as quickly as possible and then follow up with more action.

'There is nothing wrong with moving one step at a time provided you give the Somali people confidence that more is being done,' she said. She added that there was a danger troops would not arrive until September and that the UN would not undertake large relief operations until they were in place.

Hundreds of people are dying of hunger every day in Somalia, which has been ravaged after months of savage fighting between rival clans. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country.

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