Syrian Jihadists “Strident” In Diverting UN Food Aid

The head of the UN’s World Food Program, Ertharin Cousin, talked with me about her efforts to convince cash-strapped Western donors to give money to feed the burgeoning number of Syrians displaced by the violence and on how “al-Nusra has gotten much more strident in diverting our conveys” in Syria. Link to the Newsweek/Daily Beast here.

Pre-Election Violence Surges In Libya

This is my log of recent violence in Libya and highlights the instability of the country as elections loom. The incidents have been gleaned from various reliable sources. It is not exhaustive.

June 9

Nighttime clashes between Libyan military units and Tibu tribesmen in the city of Al Khufra, near Libya’s borders with Chad and Sudan. Reports of five dead and a dozen wounded. Tibu tribesmen say they came under attack first — an accusation denied by the Libyan military.

Al Khufra has seen several clashes in recent weeks mainly between Tibu and Zwai tribesmen. In February, the transitional government dispatched Libyan armed forces units to the town.

June 10

Thirteen people killed in a second day of clashes between Libyan soldiers and Tibu tribesmen.

Armed thieves ransack a couple of office containers in Tripoli belonging to the Libyan Coast Guard then destroy them with RPG fire.

June 11

Grenade is thrown at two vehicles ferrying a British delegation around Sabha in the Southern region of Libya. No injures. Not clear if the assailant was targeting the British – the vehicles sported UN logos.

British diplomatic convoy comes under an RPG attack in Benghazi. Two security guards injured but the British ambassador unscathed.

Zintan militiamen seize several government vehicles in Tripoli. The action they say is a response to the government’s failure to settle their wage demands.

June 12

Heavy fighting reported in Mizdah between Zintan militia and Mashasha tribesmen, leaving 20 dead. There have been frantic appeals by locals to the government to put an end to the fighting.

June 13

Sixty-nine anti-aircraft missiles found discovered inside a fishing boat on Egyptian-Libyan border.

Two dead and a dozen left wounded after clashes in Sabha involving the “national army”.

A small mob gathered in Tripoli outside a courthouse near the Radisson Blu Hotel to demand the release of the former Gaddafi-era Minister of External Affairs Abu Zaid Omar Dorda, whose trial started that day. A nervous guard responded by firing into the mob, killing a driver working with a European Union delegation. The delegation responded by decamping from the Radisson for a day.

Several left dead and wounded in clashes in Al Khufra involving the Libya Shield force and members of armed groups.

Former Gaddafi-era internal security official Ibrahim Laaribi killed in a car bombing.  He is the second former intelligence officer to be assassinated.

June 17

Libyan government declares a military zone in the west of country (which will presumably mean that journalists and independent observers will be prohibited officially from visiting the area) after days of clashes between rival militias and tribes.

The zone includes the towns of Zintan, Mizdah and Shegayga, about 150 kilometres south of Tripoli. Most of the fighting in these towns involves Zintan militiamen backed by Guntrara tribesmen from the Mizdah pitched against Mashashya tribesmen based out of the town of Shegayga.

Sources have told me there are dozens of dead.

 

Haiti and TV (cont)

CNN International has now some rivals in terms of human-focused TV coverage of the consequences of the Haiti earthquake. BBC World News has had some tremendous pieces in the last 24 hours including a feature on a pregnant woman who was helped to a hospital by the BBC crew and gave birth – two lives in the balance and they came through. CNN International has been using its web site effectively by creatively explaining how ordinary people can have an impact on the crisis with donations.

Fox News had an excellent feature from Jonathan Hunt graphically illustrating how the earthquake has impacted the government of the country with shots of destroyed government buildings. Hunt pointed out that no one knows how many members of the legislative assembly are dead or buried in the rubble.

Aid logistics remain a problem – as does overall coordinated leadership – but the BBC and others now seem to appreciate the scale of the tragedy and the huge challenges posed. They are being less knee-jerk and more thoughtful in their coverage of the aid problems.

One striking thing in this crisis, though, is how the UN leadership has failed to be proactive in explaining what they are doing and what efforts arte being made to coordinate and prioritize. Why no morning press conference in Haiti by top UN communicators? Why no thoughtful daily messaging?

Most senior UN spokespeople appearing on television are not even based in Haiti but are in Switzerland or New York and seem not to be coordinating the information they are putting out and are very light on real-time details. As ever the UN is naïve in its public and media relations work, allowing others to define the space.