UN observers wounded in Somalia

Mark Huband in Mogadishu and Mark Tran in New York

The Guardian, 29 August 1992


GUNMEN yesterday shot and wounded two United Nations ceasefire observers in the Somali capital during an attack on their convoy which left three local guards dead.

The shooting occurred as the convoy returned from Mogadishu’s port where hundreds of tonnes of food were stolen after a tank blocked the port entrance.

The attack comes less than two weeks before 500 UN troops are due to arrive in the city to guard relief food convoys. It also follows criticism this week by Somalia’s main faction leader, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, of a recommendation by the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, that another 3,000 UN troops be sent to guard food from looters.

In his report to the Security Council this week, Mr Boutros-Ghali said anarchy and lawlessness prevail in Somalia, where heavily-armed gangs overrun distribution centres and loot food and medicines from docked ships and airports. The secretary-general said it was too risky to send unarmed UN military observers to monitor ceasefires outside Mogadishu. But the Security Council has been asked to send four additional 750-man “security units” to Bossasso in the south-west and to Berbera and Kismayu.

The two unarmed UN observers, who were driving across the city’s main crossroads in a clearly-marked UN vehicle, were stopped when four trucks with mounted heavy weapons, known as “technical”, sped past them and blocked the road. According to one eyewitness, the UN vehicles came under a hail of automatic gunfire.

An Egyptian member of the UN team, Major Mustafa Sidki, was shot in the back and was yesterday evacuated to Nairobi where doctors say he will undergo emergency surgery to remove a bullet lodged just below his skin. According to the eyewitness, a Czechoslovak member of the team who was forced out of the car by the gunmen had a gun held to his head which he tilted back as the trigger was pulled. Doctors said his head was grazed but did not require hospital treatment. The third UN observer in the car, an officer from Pakistan, escaped unhurt.

A senior UN source said the attack appeared to be directed specifically at the UN personnel, though the eyewitness said he saw up to five Somalis lying on the roadside after the attack. Three were apparently dead.

The Egyptian ambassador, Fathi Hassan, said he believed the attack was intentional and that the UN observers had received threats.

At the UN headquarters in New York, an official said such incidents “make our performance very difficult, but we are not going to cease operations because of an unfortunate incident”.

The attack, which took place around dawn, is the first on the 50-strong multinational ceasefire monitoring team since their arrival in Mogadishu in mid-July. Only a few days ago, doctors from the French relief agency, Médecins Sans Frontières, asked for the team’s blood groups in case of emergency.

The attack happened as tanks driven by looters blocked the entrance of Mogadishu port. Earlier, in a four-hour gun battle on the quayside, hundreds of tonnes of maize and beans were stolen by armed gangs and members of the United Somali Congress who are paid by the agencies to guard the port.

Relief workers described how lorries lined up near the warehouses while looters used fork-lift trucks to steal food. The supplies were to have been sent to the north of the city, which is divided between two factions.

A tank and armoured personnel carriers later sped through the city centre, after reports of renewed fighting along the “green line” dividing Mogadishu since a UN-brokered cease-fire was agreed last April.

The USC leader, Gen Aideed, this week strongly disapproved of more UN troops being sent to Somalia to guard food convoys, but said he would not confront the troops if they arrived. Until an agreement two weeks ago allowing 500 troops in, Gen Aideed had said he would consider them an army of occupation.

The UN special envoy to Somalia, Mohamed Sahnoun, yesterday met Gen Aideed at his headquarters in Bardera to discuss the troop arrivals and the security problem.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited