Somali relief agencies denounce US



 

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 1 March 1993

 

RELIEF agency chiefs in Somalia accused the United States yesterday of deliberately concealing the failures of the US-led multinational force in the country and exaggerating its successes to ensure that US troops can hand over control to the United Nations and depart.

Distrust of the US Operation Restore Hope among relief agencies – and despair at the slow pace of UN preparations for resuming leadership of the Somali relief effort – have heightened since anti-American riots in Mogadishu last week.

The three days of rioting began when troops loyal to the faction leader General Siad Hersi Morgan seized part of the southern port of Kismayo, unhindered by US and Belgian troops in the town.

This prompted accusations from the Mogadishu warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, that Gen Morgan – the son-in-law of the deposed Somali dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre – was receiving US support in the run-up to peace talks scheduled for March 15. Gen Aideed then called for the anti-US demonstration which led to the riot.

“The US has down-played everything because it’s the only way they are going to get out of here,” a senior UN official said yesterday.

“Last week’s riot allowed Aideed, even though he has lost a lot of his own power since the foreign troops arrived, to show that the US aren’t in control of the security situation in Mogadishu, nearly three months after they arrived.”

The US special envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley, was singled out for criticism. After a meeting with agencies on Saturday, where he is reported to have played down the significance of the riot in which at least 20 people were killed by multinational troops, one relief agency head who had initially welcomed the US force last December said:

“Oakley is exaggerating everything with regard to the supposedly improved security situation, to justify the US departure. They are desperate to get out of here… I just don’t believe what Oakley tells the agencies. He is going to leave Somalia with shit dribbling all the way down his chin.”

Last Tuesday, when the riots erupted, relief workers met Mr Oakley to emphasise the dangers of the disturbance, advising him to make a radio announcement to halt rumours of US support for Gen Morgan. “But he was so arrogant. He down-played everything,” one source said.

The US claims Somalia’s warlords are no longer able to use their military power to further political aims, making a large US military presence unnecessary. The military leaders have been forced to the negotiating table by a combination of foreign and domestic pressure. But Gen Morgan’s seizure of parts of Kismayo as a means of strengthening his position in negotiations suggests that military power is still a key factor.

Meanwhile, crime in the capital remains appalling. UN figures show that in the past two months as many Somali relief workers have been killed as were in the whole of 1992, when up to 30 died.

The murder of expatriate relief workers has also undermined US claims that its three-month presence has radically improved security.

While fewer food relief convoys are being attacked than before the troops arrived, bandits are now attacking unprotected sites where Somali guards have been randomly disarmed by US troops.

US marines raided Mogadishu’s Bakara gun market in January. But most of the guns they seized seem to have belonged to shopkeepers, making them vulnerable, while the gunmen still threaten and steal.

Referring to the killing of demonstrators in last week’s riot, one senior Somali relief worker said: “If troops in, for example Zaire, had opened fire on demonstrators there would have been an outcry. There should be a complaints office where people who feel they have been abused can go. All this resentment will build up against the US.”

Dr Abdi Mohamed Elmi Hangun, a surgeon at the city’s Benaadir hospital, said: “The US were welcomed with flowers, but they will leave with blood on their uniforms.” The hospital received 10 corpses and scores of wounded during the riots, he said.

 

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