Interview: Sue Neales – Somalia

Interview: Sue Neales – Somalia

Jana: Sue

Neals, you were in the CARE compound in 1992, just before the arrival

of the UN force.

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What can you tell us about what you saw?

Sue: For 36 hours

before the UN forces came into Baidoa, we were in the CARE Australia compound,

where we had been staying for a couple of days, and several US State Department

officers or reconnaissance agents landed in Baidoa and made their way

into the CARE Australia compound, with the full agreement apparently of

the leader of the CARE Australia compound, and there they were briefed,

they were accommodated, they were shown around the town in a CARE Australia

vehicle, and then when the actual UN forces came into Baidoa, they actually

carried out their sort of post from the roof of one of the CARE Australia

buildings.

Jana: So,

they actually had a command post on the roof of one of those buildings?

Sue: Well, they weren`t

in command of the operation, but they were obviously the local people

on the ground who were helping the UN forces coming into town with local

directions and advice, and yes, their post with the walkie-talkies and

communications equipment was on the roof of one of the CARE Australia

buildings.

Jana: So,

it was your impression that these men were Americans who were there to

set up the entry of this UN force?

Sue: Well, that`s

right. There was a US-led mission – the UN move into Somalia, and so the

US military was very deeply involved, and these guys came into the compound,

introduced themselves as from the State Department and went about their

business for the next day before the forces came into town.

Jana: And

what was the degree of contact between the head of the mission there,

the CARE head of mission and these four men.

Sue: Well, it was

very open. It seemed to be pre-arranged. They arrived early one morning,

apparently had come in during the night the previous evening, and were

briefed by the head of the mission, Lockton Morrisey, had several meetings

with him, we then went in a van around Baidoa, which at that time was

quite a dangerous town because there were still a lot of rebels in town

and machine-gun fire and the two State Department guys who came in the

vehicle had hand-held military GPSs, and they were taking mapping coordinates

to try and find the best route for the UN forces to come into Baidoa,

with the least amount of conflict, I guess.

Jana: Now,

CARE Australia refutes your story right down the line. They are saying

that it`s wrong in both substance and detail. Could you have got this

wrong?

Sue: No. We were there

as journalists..or I was there for the `Sydney Morning Herald` and `The

Age` and my job is to report what I see and what happens, and I mean,

we were there and that`s what happened. It wasn`t like we had stumbled

across something secret.

Jana: Why,

Sue, have you chosen to write this story now. It is eight years ago.

Sue: Well, obviously

there is a current controversy concerning CARE Australia and the possible

blurring of their lines, where they do sometimes seem to get involved

with military and political issues. At the time, I felt compromised and

was ethically concerned about what CARE was doing, but at the time, I

took the decision..made the judgment that the story that the world needed

to know about at that time was that there were hundreds of thousands of

people around Baidoa starving for lack of food, and that that was the

key issue to write about. And CARE Australia was doing some marvellous

work, of which we went along and saw some of it and helped with some of

it. So, you are very aware as a journalist, that if you write negative

articles about aid agencies, particularly in a crisis like this, it does

affect public donations.

Jana: As I

said, CARE Australia refutes your story comprehensively, but is it possible

that under those circumstances, where people were starving, that CARE

might not have had another option if we accept your story?

Sue: Look, I think

that`s obviously the decision that the head of mission took, that the

aid agency couldn`t do its job at that time because of the situation in

the streets and around the area because of the rebels, and so obviously

they couldn`t operate until the UN came into town. And that`s the situation

I accept fully now and then. The issue is though, should an aid agency

remain independent and neutral and separate from military and Government

involvement and that`s where it thought, in this instance, CARE Australia

probably crossed the line.

Jana: Sue

Neals, thank you very much for your time.