The United Nations has strongly defended the international body’s issuance of a security alert this week in Lilongwe, arguing it was a warning to its staff of impending insecurity in the country’s cities of following the arrest of opposition presidential aspirant Atupele Muluzi.
UN Communications Officer Shorai Nyambalo says the security alert is intended for its members of staff only and is not the overall security risk assessment of the nation.
Muluzi’s arrest on Tuesday followed riots in Area 24 where day long running battles between supporters of the UDF presidential aspirant and police resulted in the burning down of a police unit in the township on Sunday.
Muluzi was arrested on allegations that he incited violence for conducting his rallies when police and the Lilongwe City Council did not give him consent citing security reasons.
In its communication to staff dated March 20, the UN mentioned specific areas in Lilongwe and Blantyre which staff of all UN agencies should avoid.
“In view of this development, please advise all staff in your respective agencies to avoid Biwi, Mchesi, Areas 24 and 23, Likuni, Chinsapo, Old Town (Area 1), Area 25 and Lumbadzi in Lilongwe,” UN Malawi security advisor Lettice Myrice said.
She described Blantyre as ‘calm but tense’ because supporters of Muluzi had not yet come to terms with the arrest.
The Limbe area, from BCA Hill which his father is a resident, Chichiri Shopping Mall which is close to Blantyre Civic Offices where petitions are delivered, Chirimba to Chileka Roundabout (a high density area), Zingwangwa and Ndirande were some of the hotspots the UN warned its staff not to frequent.
“This advisory will remain in effect for the next 24 hours,” said the UN security advisor.
But Nyambalo says in a statement security advisories are intended for UN staff and are regularly issued whenever situations arise that pose risks to their safety and security.
“These advisories, as you would expect any responsible organisation to do, are issued to staff to warn them of specific situations and areas that they should avoid and in no way represent the United Nations’ assessment of the overall security risk in the whole country,” she says in the statement.
Nyambalo says the United Nations has issued security advisories to its staff before, such as during recent events where women were being stripped naked, and these have never been published.
The UN says it is therefore understandable that in the current atmosphere, a normal security advisory internally issued to staff would be taken out of its context and published to impute a meaning beyond its intended purpose.
“The UN wishes to inform the public that the security advisory issues to staff on 20th March represents nothing more than a notice to staff to take precautionary measures and avoid areas or situations that may endanger their safety and security,” Nyambalo says.
The statement says it should equally be noted that these security advisories arise from the United Nations’ weekly internal procedures where prevailing security risks are discussed and, where necessary, communicated to staff.
Nyambalo also says the specific communication was sent to staff following an assessment of the security risks in the areas mentioned but it should not to be construed as representing the United Nations’ position on the security situation in the whole country.