Troops raid Somali weapons bazaar


Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 12 January 1993

AMERICAN marines yesterday struck at the heart of Somalia’s gun culture when 900 troops occupied the capital’s weapons market and confiscated five truckloads of arms and ammunition without a shot being fired.

The casualty-free operation, called Operation Nutcracker, was launched as leaders of the country’s warring factions agreed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to an immediate ceasefire by all militia groups and the surrender of heavy weapons. But the accord failed to finalise plans on the holding of a peace conference scheduled for March 15, due to disagreement on who should be allowed to attend.

It is the third time in less than a week that troops of the 32,000-strong United States-led foreign force in Somalia have swooped on arms caches. The Bakara arms market, a maze of muddy streets and narrow alleys, has thrived since Somalia’s dictator, President Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown and fled when the country’s now warring factions invaded as a united front in 1989 and weapons looted from the Somali army began flooding onto the market.

Early in the morning, the marines sealed off the area around the market in south Mogadishu, which has become a no man’s land dominated by cross-clan groups of gangsters known as the “Moryhan”. People lined the streets and applauded the troops’ arrival.

Speakers mounted on helicopters hovering overhead blared out messages in Somali, calling on market stallholders to help the marines find the caches. Some directed the troops to warehouses where weapons ranging from anti-aircraft guns to small arms and ammunition were seized.

About half the weapons confiscated in the three recent seizures were American-made. The US provided President Barre with $600 million-worth of military aid and hardware during the 1980s.

Faction leaders who agreed in Addis Ababa yesterday to disarmament and a ceasefire, must still prove themselves able to command their own troops when it comes to handing over weapons. The leaders agreed that a ceasefire monitoring group comprising UN troops should be established. The agreement specifies that heavy weapons will be handed over but does not say what will be done with the machine guns carried by the gunmen.

At the meeting, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the warlord whose control over south Mogadishu is nominal since the area was occupied by foreign troops, insisted that only militia leaders should attend the planned peace conference. This would exclude the clan elders, academics, women’s organisations and religious leaders who had significant influence over Somali society before it fell into the hands of armed factions.


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