World frets about piracy, ignores Somalis' plight - group

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 19 Nov 2008 View Original
By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI, Nov 19 (Reuters) - The world has reacted quickly to piracy off Somalia for financial motives, but failed to tackle the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet, an international advocacy group said on Wednesday.

As well as decrying global hypocrisy over Somalia, Refugees International also lambasted U.S. policy towards the Horn of Africa nation, saying air-strikes targeting militants had brought reprisals against aid workers on the ground.

"Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian disaster and aid agencies are unable to respond to the immense scale of needs," the U.S.-based group said in a report that was the latest of multiple pleas for the world to take heed of the Somali crisis.

More than 30 staff from non-governmental organisations and U.N. agencies have been killed in Somalia this year.

"To stabilise the situation ... U.S. policy requires a complete overhaul, prioritising humanitarian concerns over narrow counterterrorism objectives," the group added.

Islamist insurgents are within a few miles of Mogadishu after a nearly two-year campaign that is the latest cycle in 17 years of civil conflict in the Horn of Africa nation.

The violence has killed 10,000 civilians since early 2007, created more than 1 million internal refugees, and left more than 3 million Somalis in need of food aid.

Refugees International said 400,000 Somalis had fled abroad, including 10,000 to Kenya in September alone.

"While the responsibility for this crisis lies first and foremost with the Somali leadership, the international community, principally the U.S. government and members of the U.N. Security Council, has also failed in its duty to protect the Somali people," the group said.

It said the contrast between the response to the humanitarian needs and the reaction to a wave of piracy off Somalia -- which has brought new NATO, European Union and U.S. patrols -- demonstrated the "lack of principled engagement".

"The root cause of the piracy is lawlessness inside Somalia, an environment where accountability means little and where the traditional clan linkages are giving way to the law of the gun. Maritime patrols ... do little to stem the motivation behind those attacks," it said.

"Moreover, the speed and resolve with which piracy has been addressed by the U.N. Security Council underlines Somalis' sentiment that economic interests trump humanitarian concerns. The United States swiftly and sternly condemned the pirates, and yet remains silent over egregious war crimes."

The U.N. Security Council has authorised and urged bigger naval patrols in waters off Somalia where piracy is now a serious impediment to international trade and is driving up insurance and other costs.

Refugees International urged Washington to re-think its tactics in Somalia, which U.S. officials fear could become a haven for al Qaeda-linked militants. It said the May strike killing rebel leader Aden Hashi Ayro had swift consequences.

A U.N. agency cancelled opening an office, attacks on aid workers increased, and two foreign charities were ordered out of the area accused of spying for Washington.

"These examples illustrate the consequences of unilateral strikes that endanger millions of Somalis who depend on international agencies for medical care and food aid while doing little to reduce terrorism," it said.

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