Somalia: Aid Groups Under Attack

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February 13, 2008: Attacks against international aid groups have increased in the last two weeks. After three of their staff were killed, Doctors Without Borders withdrew 87 foreign medical personnel from 14 clinics and hospitals in Somalia. These left behind 800 Somali medical personnel, who will try to carry on. But the threat of extortion, theft and murder are still there for the clinics. Up north, a German aid worker was kidnapped in Somaliland. Since that area has a government, a large scale search was promptly organized and the German was released in a day. Meanwhile, in Mogadishu, the UN compound was attacked with several hand grenades, and the UN threatened to pull out of the country. This attack appears to have been the result of a dispute with local Somalis, who were turned down when they asked the UN to turn off their lights late at night (most of the city is dark, the only electricity coming from generators).

 

Over two million Somalis depend on some form of foreign aid, and the many gangs, clan militias  and warlords make a lot of money protecting, or extorting, the aid groups. Most of the needed aid is food, which has to be brought in guarded by warships. Pirates still operate along the coast, and they recently seized a Danish ocean going tug (on its way to Russia's Pacific coast). A U.S. destroyer later showed up and fired on pirate boats moving to and from the captured tugboat. This is being done to encourage the pirates to release the boat. No foreign country is willing to go ashore and shut down the pirates. This would be messy, expensive, and could get some of the anti-piracy troops killed. No one is willing to pay the price. In response, some of the pirates have declared themselves to be "eco-warriors", and insist they are seizing foreign ships that are destroying the environment.

 

In Puntland, someone set off grenades in a house occupied by Ethiopians waiting for a boat to transport them to Yemen, where they become illegal migrants, and try to reach Europe, and jobs. The grenades killed twenty Ethiopians. Islamic terrorists later took credit for the attack. The Ethiopians are Christians (well, about half of them are), and do not get on well with Somalis. Smuggling (goods and people) is a major industry in Puntland. Some of the Somali pirates also operate in Puntland.

 

The fighting in Mogadishu goes on as before, with Ethiopian and Somali troops clearing neighborhoods of civilians belonging to clans that back the Islamic Courts. So far, 700,000 people have been driven out of Mogadishu, and a few thousand from other clans have begun moving into the abandoned neighborhoods. The Islamic Courts are not able to defeat the better trained Ethiopian troops in combat, and have resorted to guerilla attacks. These have not gone well, with most of the casualties being civilians. Attempts at using remotely controlled roadside bombs almost always miss the military target, and blow up some civilians as well. But the terrorists know that the bomb will probably be heard by a few journalists, and become a minor news item for the international news networks. One Islamic Courts group has a mortar, which they fire several times a week. But this is an inaccurate weapon, and civilians tend to get hurt. The Ethiopians have decided that, if the Islamic Courts refuse to give up their claims to parts of Ethiopia, then the fighting will be done inside Somalia, rather than inside Ethiopia. So the battle for Mogadishu grinds on, with the Islamic Courts continuing to lose, but continuing to fight in the hope that negotiations will get them back to their lost neighborhoods. Some Somali leaders have expressed a willingness to begin talking about starting peace negotiations.

 

In neighboring Kenya, tribal violence triggered by a rigged presidential election last December 27th. Over a thousand people have died, and about 600,000 driven from their homes in this nation of 32 million. The UN got the contending political parties to negotiate a settlement of the dispute. Meanwhile, the police and army have finally managed to contain the most violent groups, thus largely eliminating the killings and displaced populations.

 

 

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