UN hunts Somali warlord


Warrant is issued for Aideed’s arrest


Mark Huband in Mogadishu and Foreign Staff

The Guardian, 18 June 1993


THE Somali warlord, Mohammed Farah Aideed, was a fugitive last night after escaping capture during a violent sweep across Mogadishu by United Nations peacekeeping forces which left scores of Somalis and peacekeepers dead and many more wounded.

Street battles and gunfire raged throughout the day in the Somali capital as helicopter gunships blasted gunmen’s hideouts with missiles and rnachine gun fire, killing at least 63 Somalis and seven peacekeepers and injuring more than 100.

The UN later issued a warrant for the arrest of General Aideed, and last night the United States defence department said that a task force of 2,200 marines was sailing towards Somalia as a possible reinforcement for the peacekeeping force.

The assault on Mogadishu began early yesterday. Under cover of American pre-dawn aerial bombing which destroyed parts of Gen Aideed’s compound, UN ground troops from Italy, Morocco and Pakistan moved into southern Mogadishu and at 03.00 GMT fought their way to his deserted headquarters.

Fierce street battles during the initial assault left at least 14 Moroccan troops injured, as gunmen tried to repel the advance of UN tanks with machine guns while simultaneously being blasted from the air by American Cobra attack helicopters firing Tow missiles.

Supporters of Gen Aideed issued death threats against foreigners, and Somali snipers fired bursts at UN troops advancing down near-deserted streets strewn with the rubble from buildings and vehicles destroyed in the most intensive bombing yet seen in Mogadishu.

One Somali was killed and another injured when the office of the French relief agency Action Humanitaire Contre la Faim, was blasted with two missiles and then strafed by an American helicopter. The office is clearly marked as a relief agency building.

The injured man was taken to Mogadishu’s Benaadir hospital, where staff later reported nine dead and 19 wounded.

A doctor at a field hospital run by Moroccan troops said it was swamped with wounded UN soldiers. Colonel Artie Shelton, commander of the US Army’s 42nd Field Hospital, said that his doctors had treated dozens of wounded UN troops, but would not give a precise number.

At Mogadishu’s Digfer hospital, where crowds pelted foreign journalists with stones, 54 dead and 104 injured were brought in.

The commander of Italian UN troops in Somalia, quoted by Italy’s Ansa news agency, said seven UN peacekeepers – six Moroccans and one Pakistani – had been killed.

The UN special envoy in Somalia, Admiral Jonathon Howe, described the military operation as a “total success”. He said that after incomplete investigations into the killing of 23 Pakistan UN troops on June 5 and the subsequent deaths of Somalis at a demonstration on June 13, “it is time for Gen Aideed to be detained, and I have directed the UN force commander, General Bia, to arrest Gen Aideed in order to ensure the public safety.”

He appealed to Gen Aideed to give himself up peacefully “in order to ensure his safety”.

The UN listed the aims of its operation in Mogadishu in a statement from New York. “Aideed needs to be understood for what he is, one of the warlords largely responsible for the death of 350,000 Somalis – people who were killed or starved to death by power-hungry warlords, and particularly those who refused to stop fighting,” it said.

“The UN action is intended to deprive Aideed of the weapons and propaganda tools he needs to continue the intimidation of the Somali people,” the statement added.

Nobody knows when or where the general has fled. The aura of invincibility which surrounded his fortified villa has gone now he and his henchmen have disappeared, leaving only a sinister silence, the evidence of their rapid flight and the rubble of bomb damage.

The text of a speech Gen Aideed had made at the press conference three days ago lay on a shelf in his bedroom at his deserted headquarters. Beside it were nine copies of the Koran – new, barely opened, hard-back volumes. Other books lay with them: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution by Agnes Smedley, and a revised edition of the American constitution.

A handwritten notice was still taped to the mirror and signed by the general. Called The Timetable for a Hardworking Man, it detailed his day in curious chronological order: “1.30 lunch, 8.00 dinner, 7.30-8.00 breakfast, 9.00 sleep.”

Outside Gen Aideed’s residence, Pakistani troops nervously edged their way along the street. “Salaam. Salaam. Bonjour,” a unit of Moroccan soldiers said as they crouched on a sandy verge at the end of a street overlooking Mogadishu parade ground.

A Moroccan army jeep sped around the corner under a torrent of machinegun fire from the scrubland between the parade ground and the street.  Then a Moroccan army lorry pierced by bullets turned the corner and screeched to a halt, its back covered in camouflage pulled away to reveal an anti-aircraft gun.

The move against Gen Aideed has angered his supporters. Members of his Habir Gedir clan put up makeshift barricades and set old tyres ablaze. They shouted “Down with America” and waved their fists at foreign troops. Crowds elsewhere in the city yelled at foreigners: “We will kill you.”


© Guardian Newspapers Limited