Reuters : UN security chief to quit after bombing report

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

UN security chief to quit after bombing report

By Patrick Worsnip | June 24, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 (Reuters) - The head of U.N. security has resigned after an inquiry into a car bombing that killed 17 U.N. staff in Algiers criticized failures by his department, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.

Ban said in a statement that Britain's David Veness, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, had told him on Monday he was taking the blame for "any security lapse that may have occurred" over the attack on Dec. 11 last year.

Veness, a former anti-terrorism chief at Britain's Scotland Yard police headquarters, has held the U.N. job for three years. Ban said he had significantly improved the world body's security system and would stay on until a successor could be found.

A seven-person outside panel that investigated the Algiers bombing aimed at the U.N. compound there, and drew lessons for U.N. security worldwide, said in a report the attack had put security arrangements to the test.

"Most unfortunately, the system as a whole and individuals who, both in the duty station itself and at headquarters, held direct responsibility for the U.N. presence in Algiers and the security of its personnel and premises, have been found wanting," panel chief Lakhdar Brahimi said.

There was "ample evidence that several staff members up and down the hierarchy may have failed to respond adequately to the Algiers attack, both before and after the tragedy," Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. official said in the report.

The report did not identify individual accountability. U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters that a separate "accountability panel" would determine in the coming weeks who was to blame and what consequences should follow.


It said that although Algerian authorities had provided the United Nations with effective security for 20 years, this proved inadequate on Dec. 11.

The lack of a close working relationship between the two prevented better security cooperation, it said. "This weakness could and should have been at least partially offset by pro-active support from" Veness's department in New York.

The department needed to address "as a matter of priority" accountability, leadership and internal management and oversight. It was also inadequate in responses to warnings and security-related information and had insufficient resources.

Management had ignored warnings about potential threats in Algiers, had not supported security efforts by U.N. officials there and had not approached Algeria's U.N. mission to seek better protection for the building, it said.

U.N. employees had "limited confidence" in the security management system, it added, and the 75 percent of field staff worldwide who were locally employed felt that they were not protected as well as international staff. Fourteen of the 17 staff who died in Algiers were Algerians.

A group called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.N. compound and another bombing in Algiers on the same day. At least 41 people were killed in the two attacks.

A key section of the report discussed why the United Nations was now coming under attack from militants, an issue first highlighted when the U.N. compound in Iraq was blown up in 2003, killing 15 staff and seven others.

The U.N., it said, "is being targeted by terrorists for what it is and what it represents." This was due to perceptions that the body had become "an instrument of powerful member states to advance agendas that serve their own interests, rather than those of the global community of nations.

"This is often broadly referred to as a pro-western agenda; others have called it an anti-Muslim agenda," it said. "Whatever it is called ... the fact is that in many places the U.N. is no longer seen as impartial and neutral." (Editing by Chris Wilson)