Global Policy Forum

Short Sparks UN Row With Attack


By Kim Sengupta

April 23, 2001

Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, has sparked a diplomatic row after attacking the United Nations for failing in its duties in Sierra Leone.

The Independent has learnt that she confronted Oluyemi Adeniji, the head of the UN mission in Sierra Leone, during her visit there last week, to demand why his troops have not disarmed the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, responsible for thousands of murders and mutilations in the country's civil war.

Ms Short believes the UN's failure cannot be blamed purely on those running the operation at a local level. Rather, it is a reflection of a deeper bureaucratic malaise, afflicting the heart of the organisation and its management in New York, which has serious implications for the future of peacekeeping missions around the world.

Ms Short and her advisers believe particular attention must be paid to the DPKO (the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations). They feel that not enough has been learnt from previous disasters in humanitarian missions, such as those in Rwanda and Somalia. Ms Short's criticism has angered senior UN staff in Sierra Leone, who have accused her of arrogance. Those present at the meeting with Mr Adeniji said she had "handbagged" him.

Her actions are likely to cause tension with Robin Cook, who has been careful not to antagonise the UN high command. There has often been friction between the Foreign Secretary and his cabinet colleague over her blunt comments on foreign affairs.

Senior officials in Ms Short's Department for International Development feel the Foreign Office is unwilling to make waves at the UN's headquarters. Furthermore, they say, the Foreign Office resents the influence their department exerts in developing countries.

But Ms Short's intervention has been warmly welcomed by the elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Freetown and British military and diplomatic staff in Sierra Leone, as well as many UN staff frustrated by the impotence at senior levels of the mission.

Ms Short said yesterday: "I am convinced we will win in the end in Sierra Leone. But there must be lessons here for the UN and the international system. Things could be done much more quickly and effectively and with much less of the appalling suffering the people there are enduring. This must be taken into account by the DPKO in what the UN offers elsewhere."

The UN mission in Sierra Leone has been in trouble before. As The Independent revealed at the time, in June last year the organisation took the unprecedented step of sending a top-level team from New York to rescue the floundering mission. Bitter political infighting has led to the Indian and Jordanian contingents pulling out. Ms Short told Mr Adeniji that he has shown little return for the vast subsidies paid by Britain and the international community to his mission.

The UN is accused of failing to implement one of the main conditions of the Abuja Agreement - disarming and withdrawal of the RUF - between the Sierra Leone government and the rebels.

In Freetown, Mr Adeniji said: "We haven't got the resources to do anything more at the moment. We have got a Pakistani detachment coming and maybe we will be in the diamond producing areas in three months." A senior British military officer said: "They have given the timescale of three months before - the last time they did was about this time last year."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said last night: "We will continue to support the UN secretary-general's attempts to increase and improve (the mission). We never pretended it would be easy, but it is the right thing to do."

More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Peacekeeping


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