UN Coordinator Helps Aid Flow Swedish Diplomat Jan Eliasson Is Working to Provide Secure Corridors for Relief Supplies
Lucia Mouat, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
GETTING relief supplies to needy civilians in the midst of a raging civil war is one of the United Nations' most challenging new roles. From the Sudan and Somalia to Bosnia-Herzegovina, relief personnel and their convoys have had to dodge bullets and sometimes turn back from areas of the most intense fighting.
Few are more familiar with the dangers - or more convinced of the necessity of continuing such aid - than Jan Eliasson, the UN emergency relief coordinator. A former Swedish ambassador to tHeworld body who now serves as UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mr. Eliasson says getting such aid through is vital both to help innocent victims and to serve as a catalyst for UN peacemaking efforts. Providing secure corridors for+m|4Zference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on relief aid for Somalia that he says was timed to precede a reconciliation meeting on Somalia.
Many of the Somali 190 clan leaders, village elders, representatives of women's groups, and other community leaders invited to the first meeting stayed for the second. One aim of the relief conference was to make it clear that the $130 million in help pledged by donors depended on a safe environment for aid delivery and on positive political steps.
bWaat the Somalis heard was, `Yes, we are willing to help you, but we also expect security and a process of reconciliation,' " Eliasson says.
In his view, that message and the broad range of participants in the relief conference played key roles in the subsequent agreement on Somali interim government and disarmament reached at the next conference.
The more active UN of the 1990s inevitably runs new risks, Eliasson says. He acknowledges a growing concern over the safety of relief workers and those they help. Protection must vary according to circumstances, he says, and may not be sufficient to do the job alone. Despite 300 UN guards in Iraq, for instance, relief workers aiding the Kurds still encounter security problems.
In tense civil conflicts, Eliasson says, international relief workers often have to work particularly hard to convince all parties of their absolute impartiality. "We have to fight for the respect of humanitarian law," he insists.
One common security threat to humanitarian work that the UN and other agencies can do something about, in his view, are the tens of millions of land mines in combat areas of Cambodia, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, and Iraq. Though experts say eliminating such mines will take another 40 to 50 years, Eliasson says the job can be done by the end of the century. Intensive training for military and civilian workers would be required.
In the past, nations assumed that they had a sovereign right to say "no" to humanitarian aid if they wihwd, the diplomat says. The UN now is trying to balance such nationalist sensitivity with the internationally recognized responsibility of states to take care of victims of emergencies or provide access for such help.
"That means we are negotiating in practically all situations both with the government and with the parties to the conflict about humanitarian corridors," he says. …