Marchers died in battle between hidden gunmen and UN troops



 

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 17 June 1993

 

HIDDEN gunmen almost certainly shot at Somali demonstrators as well as United Nations troops during a battle last weekend which left 20 people dead and up to 30 wounded. Pakistani UN troops now admit they also fired at the crowd.

Survivors have said shots were fired from several directions at the 1,500 demonstrators and at a smaller protest nearby, and could not have come only from two UN positions manned by Pakistani troops.

In their version of what happened at the weekend, UN officials take as their starting point the attack on June 5 in which 23 Pakistanis were killed.

On that occasion, Pakistani troops at two feeding stations were surrounded by mobs, with women and children in front. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Jamsheed Marker, said the soldiers held their fire until they were overwhelmed by “[General Mohammed Farah] Aideed’s criminals, and brutally murdered and mutilated”.

On June 13, the same tactics were used, says the UN. A mob used women and children as a human shield, with gunmen behind. At 10.35am, the main demonstration was nearing a crossroads called Kilometre Four, here gun emplacements have been sited in the former Egyptian embassy and an old hotel.

The main march was 50 yards away, outside the offices of the Saudi relief agency when, according to Pakistani troops, two warning shots were fired to discourage the crowd.

An official report to the Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi says: “[The crowd] was moving fast shouting slogans. It was cautioned to stop, but it did not and pressed forward.” Warning shots were fired, and were followed by more warning shots. “At this point some persons within the crowd fired at the troops and automatic fire was also received by the troops from the buildings across the street.”

Pakistani troops on the embassy roof fired in self-defence gunmen they identified in the crowd and “the weapons firing at the troops from across the street were engaged too by the troops on the rooftop”.

The UN’s version has been based on the assumption that the demonstration was being used by gunmen determined to create civilian casualties by forcing UN troops to return fire into crowds of civilians. Film of the killing shows there was a delay of only a few seconds between the warning shots and the continuous gunfire, and two witnesses said the first shots came from the Pakistanis.

An interim report to the Security Council added: “Initial reports suggest (media statements notwithstanding) a case of violent staged demonstration with the crowd encouraged by agitators to attack Pakistani soldiers at a stronghold.”

But survivors have said they were also shot at from the opposite side of the street to the Pakistani positions. “The bullets were firing near to the Saudi Arabian office, from both sides of the road,” said Luul Abdullahi Yusuf.

Her evidence and that of the other women injured with her suggests very strongly that there was another source of gunfire, other than the UN troops, who say they identified gunmen on the same side of the road where Mrs Yusuf was injured.

The evidence for several sources of gunfire also emerges from interviews with Somalis in a smaller march between Kilometre Four and Mogadishu’s presidential palace. Up to 60 people were marching when they came under fire at least 20 yards from the junction.

“Bullets came from hidden places. I can’t say where the bullets came from. They were fired from all sides. From both sides of the road,” said Natiifa Hussein Omar, who was shot in the leg and hand.

Pakistani troops at the roundabout yesterday said they had not fired in the direction of the smaller march, again suggesting that there were other armed people close-by.

The alignment of a bullet which pierced a nearby hotel suggests it was fired from a building next to the embassy. It was here that the smaller march came under fire.

Pakistani troops yesterday contradicted claims by their government that they had only fired warning shots. They admitted they fired from the embassy roof at people identified as carrying guns in the main march, hitting eight people.

They also claimed they fired at peoples’ legs, although hospital records show most of the injured were suffering from chest and neck wounds.

The UN troops also admitted they shot at people in a car which was caught in the shooting on the roundabout. Six people hiding behind the car caught the full force of the gunfire, and a boy and a man were killed.

“They were caught in the cross-fire. There were no gunmen in the car, and they were hit from the trench in front of the [former hotel] opposite the embassy, said the officer commanding troops at the embassy.

 

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