UN killings inflame Somali crisis: 20 demonstrators shot dead in Pakistani 'revenge'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ANY CHANCE the United Nations may have had to restore law and order in Somalia appeared to vanish yesterday as Pakistani troops fired on thousands of demonstrators protesting in Mogadishu against US air strikes. Twenty people were killed and up to 50 wounded.

The victims included four women and a young boy whose head was blown off by a high-calibre machine gun.

The commander of the Pakistani contingent, Brigadier-General Ikram Ul-Hassan, said preliminary reports indicated his men had come under fire from the protesters. He denied the soldiers had been out to avenge the killing of 23 comrades a week ago.

His account was disputed by witnesses, including journalists, who said Pakistanis shot into the crowd, without warning, from their sandbagged fortress about 150 yards away.

Somalia's main warlord, General Mohammed Aideed, who was unharmed despite the US air strike at the weekend near his home, urged President Bill Clinton yesterday 'to stop killing the Somali people.' The US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, responded that General Aideed should 'stop the inciting action' against UN forces in Somalia and seek to 'restore law and order in his ruined homeland'.

President Clinton said on Saturday that the assault against General Aideed's forces - the first military action of his presidency - was intended to send a clear warning to armed gangs against provoking 'terror and chaos' in the Somali capital. Last night US AC-130 gunships were reported to have attacked the area near the residence of General Aideed for the third night in a row.

Yesterday's killing was the latest round in the growing confrontation between Somalis and UN troops, whose mission is to keep the peace and ensure the timely arrival of food relief. 'Down with the UN' and 'America, thief' were among the protesters' chants.

The security situation in Mogadishu has deteriorated sharply since militiamen loyal to General Aideed clashed with Pakistani troops serving with the UN peace-keeping force on 5 June, killing 23 and wounding at least 60 people. It occurred a month after the US, which spearheaded the international intervention force last December to protect famine relief convoys, handed over responsibility to the UN. Most foreign aid workers have been evacuated, and the relief effort has halted.

The protests and shootings yesterday followed the second day of air attacks on central Mogadishu near General Aideed's residence, which the UN Security Council sanctioned in retaliation for the guerrilla-style assaults against the Pakistani troops.

The strikes, by US AC-130 ground attack aircraft and Cobra helicopters, hit a compound where US marines attempted to confiscate arms during the early days of the intervention but were ordered not to do so by their commanders. During the civil war, sparked by the downfall of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1990, the compound was used to assemble the battle-wagons known as 'technicals'.

At the outset of the US-led intervention, Operation Restore Hope, the US ambassador, Robert Oakley, drew sharp criticism from many Somalis for giving too much prominence to General Aideed, whose forces, during the civil war with his rival, Ali Mahdi, reduced central Mogadishu to rubble and killed thousands of civilians. But the shootings of demonstrators in central Mogadishu were expected to turn even anti-Aideed forces against the United Nations.

The International medical aid group Medecins sans Frontieres said yesterday that the UN attacks on Mogadishu could jeopardise relief work. A spokesman said: 'It now becomes easier for warlords to manipulate the Somalis, to set them against humanitarian interventions . . . against any foreign presence in Somalia.'

(Photograph omitted)

Clinton confronts tyrants, page 8

Leading article, page 17