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20-06-06, 11:38
UN's Selective Vision on Somalia and Wishful Thinking on Uighurs

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 -- The United Nations conflicted positions on Somalia were on display Monday, as Kofi Annan's envoy Francois Lonseny Fall took questions from reporters. Inner City Press asked about the reports that 300 Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia. Mr. Fall said he's heard the reports, and that it may be because the Islamic Courts militia were moving toward Ethiopia and Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government.

Inner City Press asked if it is Mr. Fall's understanding that Ethiopia would intervene to defend the Somali town of Baidoa from the Somali Islamic Court militia. We have asked the international community to defend the transitional government, Mr. Fall answered. Does that mean the UN would tacitly approve of Ethiopian intervention? No answer was given. Nor to questions about whether the United States was or is funding the warlords. That's about the past, Mr. Fall said. We should look ahead to the future.

Somali refugees per UNHCR

Inner City Press asked Mr. Fall to confirm or deny reports that some of the warlords left Mogadishu on a U.S. ship. Mr. Fall said that he understands that two warlords have left Mogadishu. On the question of Puntland's deal with Australia-based Range Resource, Mr. Fall said that Puntland and the transitional government in Baidoa reached a deal two weeks ago, and that the UN urges Somali's to work together to defend their national wealth. But Range Resource has reportedly used armed men to stake its claim. Mr. Fall's generalities fell, perhaps understandably, short of the mark in answering these issues.

UN's Wishful Thinking on Uighurs

So too the response by the UN's refugee agency UNHCR to Inner City Press' inquiries, last week and this, into the plight of the five Uighurs from western China who were moved in May from Guantanamo Bay to Albania. Last Friday Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press question: This is about some lower profile individuals. There are these five Chinese Uighurs that were in Guantanamo Bay, and the US released them, and now they're in Albania. There were reports of the US trying to find them another place, other than Albania. I don't know if the UN system or UNHCR has any. do they have any role? Are they aware of them?

Spokesman: I don't know what their status is vis-Ã -vis UNHCR, but we can ask.

Over the weekend, Inner City Press emailed UNHCR in Geneva and New York with just this question. On Monday from UNHCR New York, this response:

From: vargas [at] unhcr.org
To: matthew.lee [at] innercitypress.com
Sent: Mon, 19 Jun 2006 15:12:15 +0200
"Our understanding is that it was a bilateral agreement between the USA and the Albanian government that enabled the group to enter Albania on humanitarian grounds. it is also our understanding that Albania will address the concerns of this group within the framework of their law and in respect of due process. we have no reason to fear that this will not be done in a fair and transparent manner."

This answer was reiterated, after Inner City Press re-asked the question at Monday's noon briefing, by Kofi Annan's spokesman's office: "We understand the Albanian authorities will address the concerns of the group within the framework of their law."

This seemed and seems strange, given that Albania has reportedly already denied political asylum to the five Uighurs. In an interview, Albania's National Commissioner for Refugees Argita Totozani explained: "Their future is not here," she said. "There is not a Uighur community (here). They don't speak any Albanian ... There is no integration possibility for them here. We realized their future is not in Albania."

So Inner City Press has asked:

--Is denial of political asylum because the applicant doesn't speak the language of the country applied-to in keeping with international law?
--Is keeping them incommunicado in keeping with international law?
--Any comment on the report of Kazakhstan sending back Uighurs to China?

Response is awaited. And while there was no update given about the seven UN peacekeepers held hostage in Eastern Congo since May 28, Inner City Press has asked for a response to UK Channel 4's footage of the destruction of Kazara in Ituri, and has been told that the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations is looking into the matter and will provide a response. Other issues have been raised. We'll see.