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Statement on the Appointment of a Special Coordinator on Relief to Civilian Victims of the Nigerian Civil War.

February 22, 1969

I KNOW that I speak for all Americans in expressing this Nation's deep anguish for the terrible human suffering in the Nigerian civil war. It is tragic enough to watch a military conflict between peoples who once lived together in peace and developing prosperity. But that tragedy has been compounded, and the conscience of the world engaged by the starvation threatening millions of innocent civilians on both sides of the battle.

Immediately after taking office, I directed an urgent and comprehensive review of the relief situation. The purpose was to examine every possibility to enlarge and expedite the flow of relief. This very complex problem will require continuing study. I am announcing, however, the following initial conclusions of the review:

1. The Red Cross and the voluntary agencies are now feeding nearly 1 million people in areas of the war zone controlled by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. They fully expect the numbers will grow in magnitude over the coming months. This, therefore, will require additional support for the international relief effort from donor countries, and of course the continued cooperation of Federal authorities.

2. There is widely conflicting information on future food requirements within the Biafran-controlled area, where the relief operation is feeding an estimated 2 million persons. The United States Government therefore is urgently seeking a comprehensive, internationally conducted survey of food needs in that area.

3. Whatever the results of such a survey, it is already clear that the present relief effort is inadequate to the need in the Biafran-controlled area. The major obstacle to expanded relief is neither money, food, nor means of transport. The main problem is the absence of relief arrangements acceptable to the two sides which would overcome the limitations posed by the present hazardous and inadequate nighttime airlift.

4. The efforts of outside governments to expand relief are greatly complicated by the political and military issues that divide the contestants. Unfortunately, the humanitarian urge to feed the starving has become enmeshed in those issues and stands in danger of interpretation by the parties as a form of intervention. But surely it is within the conscience and ability of man to give effect to his humanitarianism without involving himself in the politics of the dispute.

5. It is in this spirit that U.S. policy will draw a sharp distinction between carrying out our moral obligations to respond effectively to humanitarian needs and involving ourselves in the political affairs of others. The United States will not shrink from this humanitarian challenge but, in cooperation with those of like mind, will seek to meet it.

With the above conclusions in view, I am pleased to announce that Secretary of State Rogers has today appointed Mr. Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Jr., a distinguished American civic leader and professor of law at Rutgers University, as Special Coordinator on relief to civilian victims of the Nigerian civil war. He will be charged with assuring that the U.S. contributions to the international relief effort are responsive to increased needs to the maximum extent possible and that they are effectively utilized. In so doing, he will give particular attention to ways and means by which the flow of relief can be increased to the suffering on both sides of the battle-line. He will, of course, work closely with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and other international relief agencies, the Organization of African Unity, donor governments, and with the parties to the conflict.

The Special Coordinator will not seek and will not accept a charge to negotiate issues other than those directly relevant to relief.

Nevertheless, the United States earnestly hopes for an early negotiated end to the conflict and a settlement that will assure the protection and peaceful development of all the people involved.

Richard Nixon, Statement on the Appointment of a Special Coordinator on Relief to Civilian Victims of the Nigerian Civil War. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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