The UN has pulled almost all personnel and all missions out of Somalia. The deteriorating security situation is being cited as the reason. Islamist militias are threatening the interim government. Kenya, meanwhile, is begging for some relief as the refugee situation hits a crisis point.
THE UN has pulled out its foreign staff from much of Somalia, as neighbouring Kenya appealed for international help in keeping tensions between Islamists and the weak Somali Government from exploding into war. Threats, coupled with insecurity after the murder of an elderly Italian nun in the Somali capital and an attempt to assassinate the country's transitional President, had prompted the UN move.
"Given the insecure environment and subsequent direct written threats against UN staff, a decision was taken to temporarily relocate all UN international staff members from southern and central Somalia," the world body said yesterday.
In addition, the UN said it had suspended "until further notice" all missions to Mogadishu. It did not say how many staff or missions were affected.
No one has claimed responsibility for either the murder of the nun at a Mogadishu hospital on September 17 or the attempt the next day to kill President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed with a car bomb in the Government's temporary seat of Baidoa.
However, there are widespread suspicions of Islamist involvement and the UN said it feared for the safety of its staff, given threats made by elements associated with the movement.
"Security assessments are presently under way to determine when international staff can return to Somalia," its Nairobi office said.
Kenya, meanwhile, which is confronting a massive surge in refugees fleeing unrest in the shattered nation, appealed for help in preventing the situation from escalating to full-scale war.
"Any time the conflict in Somalia flares up, Kenya suffers," Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju told reporters, saying the rise of the Islamists, some of whom are accused of links with al-Qa'ida, could affect Kenyan security.
"Kenya has borne the brunt of lawlessness in Somalia if you consider the terrorist attacks … and insecurity," he said, referring to the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and a 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned coastal resort.
Nairobi has already boosted its security along its common border with Somalia but President Mwai Kibaki warned that the refugee influx – more than 30,000 this year – posed additional threats.
UN agencies say the flow of refugees has jumped from between 300 and 400 a day last month to close to 1000 a day in the past week, bringing the total number now in Kenya to more than 157,000, with thousands more expected.
There is a full court press going on right now all over the globe. The UN is simply not able to function in many areas at all any more, even in those tasks where it could do a reasonable amount of good.