Fugitive warlord mocks UN ‘success’



 

EYEWITNESS

 

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 19 June 1993

 

Digfer hospital had indeed been returned to the Somalis. That was the aim of Thursday’s bombing and street battles. The gate was closed. Young men, steely-eyed, their faces drawn and exhausted, clustered around the entrance. They sneered and refused outsiders entry.

 

All the men were wearing army jackets and ‘qat’. My driver became nervous and reversed into the rock-strewn street, scene of some of the previous day’s worst fighting between the renegade warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed and United Nations troops.

An hour later the young men had gone. Birds whistled in the rain-soaked trees. One-legged men limped around on crutches, the victims of earlier bombs from two years of war.

Above the front entrance, where two days before three bodies had lain under blood white sheets surrounded by a crowd of women outraged by the violence the windows had been shot out.

“White man. White man. Go. Go. Fuck you,” a woman said in a low voice.

General Aideed was thought by UN troops to have been in the hospital during Thursday’s fighting. All 504 patients had fled.

According to Lt Col Kelvin Mcgovern, UN military intelligence officer, rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the hospital at Moroccan and French troops. The UN troops retuned fire, hitting the hospital and eventually reaching it, to find that for the second time that day the general had evaded them.

A hole three feet wide was blasted into the side of the hospital recovery room. A bullet passed through the operating theatre and pierced the wall on the other side. The dark yellow walls were pock-marked.

Parts of a rocket lay on the floor, suggesting the hospital had been hit with heavy artillery fire, possibly from a helicopter.

A UN military spokesman, Lt Col Trevor Jones, said yesterday that American helicopters fired 11 Tow missiles during Thursday’s fighting and did not use other rockets. “I can assure you that no Tow missiles were fired at Digfer hospital, and there was no artillery used by UN forces at all,” he said.

The hole at Digfer is therefore unexplained, unless Gen Aideed’s people fired it at themselves. Asked whether he thought it was acceptable for UN troops to attack a hospital when patients were inside, he replied: “We consider it entirely extraordinary that Aideed should use a hospital as an armed fortress.”

“Everyone is quiet,” said my translator. “Nobody will speak. And I know why. It is because Aideed was here, Just now. That is why the men on the gate did not let us in. He came to visit his people.”

There are 11,000 UN troops in Mogadishu. With Thursday’s military campaign deemed a total success by the UN secretary-general and President Clinton, the arrest of Gen Aideed is the next intention, But first they have to find him.

 

© Guardian Newspapers Limited