SOMALIA: Aid agencies and Kenyan flight ban [19990827]

SOMALIA: Aid agencies and Kenyan flight ban [19990827]

SOMALIA: Aid agencies make case for special access after Kenyan flight ban

NAIROBI, 27 August (IRIN) - Relief agencies on Thursday handed a
collaborative petition to the Kenyan government to allow special access
for humanitarian flights in light of President Daniel arap Moi's
announcement on Wednesday that Kenya's closure of its borders with Somalia
extended to a ban on all flights in and out of the country.

Moi, who announced last Sunday that Kenya was closing its border with
Somalia in an effort to curb smuggling and the influx of illegal arms into
Kenya, said in a speech on Wednesday that the ban applied to "all air
flights", including humanitarian aid flights, Reuters news agency reported
on Thursday. Kenyan television later reported that the Office of the
President had clarified that the ban would take effect from 1 September,
but that some flights - understood to be humanitarian - would be allowed
to continue to avoid a complete disruption of particular activities.

Wednesday's announcement of the total flight ban, after which aid agencies
failed to get clearance for at least one planned flight from Kenya to
Somalia on Thursday, took the humanitarian community by surprise and
topped the agenda at a scheduled meeting of the Somalia Aid Coordination
Body - an umbrella group comprising donors, UN agencies and international
NGOs - on Thursday morning.

The ban, should it continue, would have a major effect on humanitarian
operations in Somalia - many of which are run from Nairobi, given the
enormous security and administrative problems in Somalia, which has not
had a functioning central government since 1991 - by severely restricting
the movement of personnel and their ability to work in Somalia, according
to humanitarian sources.

The European Community Humanitarian Office normally runs an average 13
'ECHO' flights a week from Kenya to Somalia: eight from Nairobi and five
from Mandera in the northeast. The UN Coordinated Air Service (UNCAS) also
runs an average seven flights from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in
Nairobi, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) three
flights from Wilson Airport, Nairobi - from which many of the smaller
operations considered to be the target of the ban also operate.

After an urgent meeting on Thursday afternoon of the European Community
(EC), UN, SACB and partner agencies, EC Counsellor Duarte de Carvalho told
IRIN that the humanitarian community understood and appreciated the Kenyan
government's security concerns, and was optimistic that a procedural
arrangement could be reached under which humanitarian flights to Somalia
could be regulated and cleared.

A document was submitted to the ministry of foreign affairs on Thursday
evening outlining the conditions under which humanitarian flights already
operate. It requested leave for a special, immediate flight to get out of
Somalia those aid workers who might be otherwise stranded there, given the
short notice of the ban, a UN spokesman told IRIN on Friday. The document
also proposed a regularised set of procedures under which humanitarian
flights could be scheduled for up to three months in advance, with some
measure of flexibility to cover medical evacuations, hazardous security
situations and other special needs as they arose.

The humanitarian community had two main concerns over the flight ban,
according to a senior official who spoke to IRIN: that the interim period
before a regularised system is put in place should not be too long, and
that there would be flexibility to allow the necessary responsiveness to
emergency needs, such as medivacs and security-related personnel
withdrawals. Informed sources were on Friday confident that the temporary
ban on humanitarian flights was "a procedural glitch" arising out of the
government's intention to clamp down on irresponsible operators flying in
and out of Somalia, and that the situation would be quickly resolved.

In addition to aid personnel "caught short" by the ban, more than 100
Kenyan businessmen were reported to be stranded in Somalia following the
border closure, Pan African News Agency reported. District officers in all
eight administrative divisions in northeastern province bordering Somalia
have been directed to compile a list of the stranded Kenyans and identify
the merchandise in their possession, it added.

The SACB had just last week recommended, given indications of improved
security, the resumed deployment of expatriate humanitarian staff in Lower
Shabelle Region. That decision arose after a review of a letter from the
Merka Council of Educated and Cadres. However, it also recommended that
such presence be carefully reintroduced and that "caution be exercised
until the partners assess the situation on the ground" and deem it
acceptable. The SACB would keep the situation in Lower Shabelle under
constant review, the statement said, urging meanwhile that all responsible
community representatives and local authorities ensured full security for
international organisations working in the region.


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Item: irin-english-1497

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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