Somalia media invasion goes in

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the first barriers the US forces will have to fight their way through when they reach Somalia will be the phalanxes of journalists who have flown in over the past few days writes Richard Dowden. As the Marines storm off their planes and helicopters they will be met not by Somalis carrying guns but by batteries of cameras wielded by their countrymen.

In a display of logistics that in the past few days has far surpassed any emergency relief operation mounted in the same period, tons of equipment and hundreds of journalists have arrived in Mogadishu. A seat on a charter flight from Nairobi now costs dollars 1,000 ( pounds 640) one way.

In a clear attempt to repeat the glories of the Gulf war, the US television networks have bought or seized every bed in town. Until recently the only accommodation has been with Western aid agencies, but a 53-room hotel has been opened, where journalists are sleeping five or more to a room. There is no telephone system here and a man with a satellite phone has virtual power of life and death. At dollars 40 a minute eternal friendships are being made and others shattered in outbursts of rage and unprintable language.

The skyline of Mogadishu is sprouting satellite dishes and aerials. ABC has brought in 65 people, while one NBC team shipped in one and a half tons of equipment and 10 people from London for one and a half minutes of live coverage.

Apart from a dramatic rise in the price of vehicles and fuel Somalis are unimpressed by this invasion. A few gunmen, notoriously shy of photographers, have fired warning shots at cameramen, but no one yet appears to have been hit. Many thinking Somalis wonder whether the timing of the US forces' arrival has more to do with prime-time TV and George Bush's need to leave office on a high note than with what Somalia needs.