Posted by: APO | 18 October 2007

Somalia: WFP staff member still in custody

Somalia: WFP staff member still in custody

UN Senior Humanitarian Official calls for his release and guarantees from authorities

Nairobi, 18 October 2007: The United Nations strongly condemns the continued and unexplained detention of a World Food Programme staff member in Mogadishu.

The UN compound in Mogadishu was stormed on Wednesday morning by as many as 60 uniformed and armed members of the Somali National Security Service (NSS) who forcibly detained the UN World Food Programme’s officer in charge without explanation. The staff member is still in detention today.

“We object in the strongest terms to the illegal entry of the UN compound and the illegal removal and detention of a UN staff member,” said Acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Christian Balslev-Olesen. “Both actions contravene the UN privileges and immunities, which are in place to ensure that the UN can fulfil its obligations to the people of Somalia.”

The actions are particularly disturbing given the severely deteriorating levels of violence and risk for civilians in Mogadishu, leading to continued displacement and loss of life. WFP had just re-started distributions on Monday to over 75,000 people through 42 mosques in the city after a 3-month lapse due to insecurity at distribution sites (in which some civilians were wounded). The distributions as well as the loading of WFP food were suspended after the detention of the WFP officer in order to safeguard other staff.

Some 1.5 million people in Somalia are facing a humanitarian crisis, a 50% increase since the beginning of this year. Overall over 15% of all children in Somalia suffer from acute malnutrition, a rate well above the emergency threshold, and only about 40% receive required immunisations. According to warnings issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the risk of a cholera outbreak in southern Somalia is imminent. The previous cholera outbreak in Somalia just three months ago affected more than 37,000 people and killed 1,133 people. All of this is taking place in a climate of severely deteriorating security in Mogadishu.

It is the responsibility of the Somali Authorities, the Transitional Federal Government, to protect humanitarian staff working in Mogadishu; abide by the principle of non-interference in humanitarian activities and create necessary conditions to allow aid workers to reach the millions in need. “We urge the authorities in Mogadishu to do everything in their power to ensure this vital humanitarian work can resume without unnecessary future interference as soon as possible. People are depending on this life-saving assistance,” said Mr. Balslev-Olesen.


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