(New York, 12 May 2007:) The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs (USG) and Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), John Holmes, today visited Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The highest-ranking United Nations official to visit Somalia since the early 1990's, Mr. Holmes undertook the mission to assess the humanitarian situation in the areas affected by the recent fighting, to commit parties in Somalia to respect International Humanitarian Law, and to encourage authorities to allow full and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in dire need of assistance and protection.
"It is the authorities' responsibility to look after civilians, to protect civilians and at the very least not to obstruct aid," Mr. Holmes said. He noted that access and insecurity have impeded the provision of humanitarian assistance commensurate with the needs of the population.
During his visit, Mr. Holmes met President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. The USG highlighted his concerns about the severity and magnitude of the crisis and stressed that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) must provide a more enabling operating environment for aid workers. On its part, the TFG noted its desire to cooperate with international organizations.
Mr. Holmes also visited a cholera treatment centre in south Mogadishu. The facility, supported by the non-governmental organization Action Contre le Faim, has admitted 308 patients just in the last month, most of whom are children and elderly people. He also visited a former embassy now hosting 150 displaced families, some for as long as 17 years. Many are pastoralists and agro-pastoralists who have lost their livelihoods, who are unable to find work in the capital, and who lack the means to return to their former lives. The USG was also able to meet with representatives of civil society in the capital, including elders and women's groups. Together, they discussed the dire situation that has prevailed in Mogadishu.
"I feel enormous sympathy for the suffering that the Somali people have endured," Mr. Holmes said. "I am here to help, and I will continue to advocate tirelessly on their behalf," he concluded.
A bomb exploded a few minutes after Mr. Holmes arrived in the Somali capital, and two other bombs went off within half an hour, all on the path of his itinerary. Personnel from the Africa Union Mission to Somalia defused a fourth explosive device, also on the route of his itinerary. Mr. Holmes returned to Nairobi today, and plans for a second day in Somalia were cancelled.
Mr. Holmes will continue his mission, traveling to Uganda from 14 to 16 May, where he will conduct discussions in the capital, Kampala, and travel to new settlement sites and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kitgum District in northern Uganda.
For further information, please call: Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570. OCHA press releases are available at http://ochaonline.un.org or www.reliefweb.int.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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