French kill two at Mogadishu checkpoint

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 11 December 1992


TWO people were killed and six seriously injured in the Somali capital last night after French foreign legionnaires fired on a lorry which refused to stop at a checkpoint.

Legionnaires said they were fired on from the lorry and they returned fire. It is unclear whether the deaths were from bullet wounds or the impact of the vehicle crashing into the side of the road. Witnesses said the legionnaires had yelled for it to stop but that it had continued a further 100 yards before crashing.

Gunmen hijacked cards and fired on American soldiers amid rising tension as troops of the now 2,000-strong multinational force seized weapons at checkpoints.

Yesterday Herman Cohen, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the American force could stay in Somalia for up to a year. “The US military involvement will be limited, but troops will liaise with the UN with a view to establishing some form of governmental authority,” he said.

The two main warring faction leaders confirmed they will meet today for the first time in more than a year. And on January 4 the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will preside over an informal meeting of Somali leaders in Addis Ababa to prepare for a national reconciliation conference.

US Marines guarding the city’s port yesterday came under sniper fire from close to the “green line” dividing the city into territory controlled by General Mohamed Farah Aideed and his rival, the interim president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Foreign legionnaires broke down doors and mounted heavy machine guns on rooftops overlooking roadblocks in the search for weapons. By 10am 20 weapons, mostly AK-47 machine guns, had been seized from cars at a roadblock in one district.

Jeeps mounted with heavy machine guns, called “technical” by the gunmen, reappeared on the streets yesterday morning.

The gunmen have no income, and persistently loot relief food. Now the US military leadership is encouraging the foreign relief agencies to dismiss the armed guards they have paid to protect them for the past year. This will put hundreds more young, armed men out of work.

Relief workers and United Nations staff have been advised not to venture out during the first days of the military occupation because of the excitement and resentment which it has created.

Both Gen Aideed and Mr Ali Mahdi yesterday announced on their radio stations that they will meet at 1.30pm today. US diplomats said the meeting will take place in the compound of the US oil company, Conoco, inside Gen Aideed’s territory in the south of the city.

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