Fury at delay in US rescue

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WHILE US Marines take control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, this inland town has been left to the mercy of bandits. Only 130 miles from where American pilots in Cobra assault helicopters keep gunmen in their sights, aid agencies have been defending little fortresses with sandbagged machine gun emplacements.

Emergency food flights have stopped while gangs steal all the food, medical supplies and money they can lay their hands on before the Americans come.

Aid workers here are furious with the Americans for announcing that they will not arrive for several days, giving bandits the opportunity to loot at will and allowing hundreds of people who should have got the food to starve.

'If they weren't strong enough to come in strength and come here immediately, they should not have come at all,' said Merv Zigenbine of Care.

'Since the Americans have arrived we have had no food flights. Ten thousand people we are feeding got their last distribution four days ago. It's completely stupid and they've made things worse for us.'

The leaders of the clans and political movements have taken much of their heavy weaponry out of town because they fear losing it to the Americans.

It is not only a question of the Americans moving too slowly but the effect of their announcement that they could not reach Baidoa for six days. The conditions at other places such as Bardera, unreachable by road from Mogadishu because of gunmen, could be even worse.

Bandits who left Mogadishu to escape the Americans have come to Baidoa where they have found rich pickings. The resulting insecurity has stopped emergency food flights by the US Air Force and it has become too dangerous to reach feeding centres. The Red Cross has been forced to close 50 feeding centres that were keeping up to 100,000 people alive.

The American presence in Baidoa has been limited to overflights by F-14 fighters. 'When the people in the feeding centres saw the planes, they clapped their hands,' said Pascal Schneider of the Red Cross, 'but the looters started shooting because they knew it was the end of big business for them.'

A US spokesman said last night that the agencies could always leave dangerous areas if they wanted to.

But aid workers point out that they cannot leave - they are dependent on their guards whose livelihood depends on them. 'If we tried to leave, they would stop us.'

Mogadishu (Reuter) - US helicopter gunships destroyed a Somali armoured vehicle and two gun-mounted pickups after being fired on yesterday, a military spokesman said. Somali gunmen on the ground suffered casualties, the first inflicted by Marines since they landed.

Death won't wait, page 18