UN troops move into Mogadishu


Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 14 September 1992


UNITED NATIONS troops arrive in the Somali capital this afternoon, the first stage of an operation to protect food supplies to the country, where an estimated 2 million are in danger of starvation.

The Pakistan military command in Rawalpindi confirmed yesterday that 40 Pakistani troops will arrive via Djibouti on six US air force C-l30 transports. Another 20 will arrive tomorrow, and 440 by the end of September.

They are to be housed at a military base in Mogadishu, close to where two unarmed UN ceasefire observers were shot and wounded by an armed gang on August 28. The attack was regarded as deliberate hostility against the UN but the task of finding the culprits has been left to the main Somali faction, the United Somali Congress, which claims control of south Mogadishu, where the attack took place. So far it has failed.

Agreement was reached last month between the UN and the country’s warring factions for 500 armed troops to guard Mogadishu port and airport and escort food convoys to warehouses in the city. Up to 200 will be stationed at the airport, which is under the control of the Hawardle clan. So far there have been no negotiations with the Hawardle to hand over control of the airport, where they extract $20 a head in airport tax from passengers.

The UN plan to deploy 3,000 more troops in the near future to guard convoys throughout the country has met with strong protest from the main faction leaders and has raised objection to any troops arriving, despite the earlier agreement.

After talks with clan elders and faction leaders, the UN special envoy, Mohamed Sahnoun, claims a majority of people want the troops. But he is aware that support comes from those without power and guns.

“The warlords don’t care about the ordinary people. They care about the people with guns,” Mr Sahnoun said yesterday in an uncharacteristically strong outburst.

“They feel that they can assure the security of the food convoys without the UN security guards. But under the circumstances it’s really impossible for them to do if because of the nature of the problem.”

The presence of UN troops has been strongly criticised by some relief agencies, which believe it will raise tension and make distribution more difficult. However, Mr Sahnoun does not believe there is any alternative if the current rate of looting of relief food does not stop.

The looting of 200 tonnes of food from Mogadishu port three weeks ago led the UN to halt all movement of food from the port to the city. Currently, 7,000 tonnes of food is in warehouses in the port and another shipment is expected in a week’s time.

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