/ 8 July 2008

World slams killing of top UN official in Somalia

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday led the world in condemning the killing of a top UN official in Mogadishu as an ”outrageous” act aimed at undermining humanitarian and peace efforts in lawless Somalia.

Gunmen shot and killed Osman Ali Ahmed, the head of the UN Development Programme in Mogadishu, and wounded his brother and son as they left a mosque on late on Sunday in what witnesses described as a pre-meditated attack.

Ban, who is attending the Group of Eight summit of industrialised nations in the Japanese spa resort of Toyako, condemned ”the brutal killing” and urged ”all Somalis to reflect on this latest senseless act of violence and to work together in the search for peace and reconciliation.

”The killing of Osman Ali Ahmed is a loss not only for the United Nations, but also for the Somali people, who are the ultimate victims when humanitarian workers and aid officials are targeted in this way,” said a statement issued by his spokesperson, Michele Montas.

The European Union’s French presidency said the murder was targeted at UN operations in Somalia, a nation of up to 10-million that has been wracked by conflicts since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

”We condemn this vile act which targeted by way of Osman Ali Ahmed the United Nations’s actions for the Somali people,” the French presidency said in a statement.

In Nairobi, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden also slammed the slaying.

”If this is indeed another example of a targeted killing of UN and non-UN humanitarian and development workers in Somalia, it is particularly outrageous and worrying at this critical time when the need for humanitarian assistance is rapidly increasing,” he said in a statement.

”We know that the Somali communities have been very supportive of our work in the past. We now ask them to redouble their efforts to provide an environment in which aid and services can be delivered,” Bowden added.

Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson said the killing dealt a blow to UN efforts to mediate peace between the Somali government and Islamist-led opposition.

”The murder … is a blow to the efforts towards peace, security and sustainable development in Somalia,” Carlsson said.

Somalia Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein agreed, and blamed the Islamist insurgents for the killing of Ahmed, the latest fatality in a string of attacks on aid workers in the country.

”Even though we have the transitional government, AU and Ethiopian forces in Somalia, people are still being killed selectively.”

The humanitarian community has repeatedly appealed to the warring sides in Somalia, who are fighting for the control of the country, to spare aid workers, many of whom have been killed or kidnapped in recent months.

Aid groups have scaled down operations in Somalia owing to increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a guerrilla war since they were ousted by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

The AU mission to Somalia has deployed 2 600 peacekeepers — well short of a promised 8 000 troops. So far it has failed to stem the violence.

On June 9, the rival Somali sides signed a truce agreement at UN-mediated talks in Djibouti.

The deal gave both sides one month to implement a cessation of hostilities but it was opposed by Islamist hardliners who have continued their struggle, insisting that an Ethiopian withdrawal was a precondition to talks.

Mediators are currently toiling to bring the Islamist elements into the truce with analysts warning that their absence would render the armistice useless. — Sapa-AFP