Marines' ignorance angers Somalis

ON THE beach 30 yards down from Checkpoint 1, where young US marines searching for weapons inspect all vehicles heading into the port town of Merka, American soldiers routinely swim in the blue waters of the Indian Ocean in the nude.

Apparently someone forgot to tell them to pack their bathing suits when they were preparing to spearhead Operation Restore Hope, as the US-led military intervention in Somalia is known. The oversight might seem trivial in Western eyes, but not to Muslim Somalis, especially in Merka, a stronghold of Islamic fundamentalism, which views public displays of nudity as offensive.

When the American forces arrived in Somalia on 9 December they were, in the view of most Somalis, poorly informed about the country they said they were coming to save. Somalis were seen as either pencil-thin famine victims or crazed gunmen high on the drug khat, riding around in Mad Max-style battlewagons known as 'technicals' and engaging in an orgy of looting and rape. All relief work was carried out by foreign aid agencies, and any form of government, even local, did not exist.

One month on, the Americans have done little to educate themselves. Since the marines landed a week ago in Merka, about 60 miles south of Mogadishu, Somalis have been angered by their penchant for talking solely with foreign relief workers and ignoring Somali professionals, local government officials and the Somali Red Crescent Society.

The Americans have tended to refuse to consult local governments throughout the country in the belief that they are puppets of the various clan factions that caused the civil war. But the policy is not absolute. While Robert Oakley, the special US envoy to Somalia, has refused to talk to a leading warlord in southern Somalia, General Mohammed Said Hirsi 'Morgan', whom he has called a 'war criminal', he has negotiated with others, such as the main faction leaders in Mogadishu, General Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed. For many Somalis, this policy makes no sense. 'They are all war criminals,' said a senior Somali relief worker who refused to be named.

Despite serious problems with looting and armed assaults, Merka was relatively peaceful throughout 1992, when much of Somalia was engulfed in civil war. It had a functioning local government, supported by the town elders, and the Somali Red Crescent, together with the International Red Cross set up 135 feeding centres.

Much of the credit goes to al- Itihad, a fundamentalist group which controlled the port and acted as a police force throughout 1992. 'Merka was the only place in Somalia where security was improved by a unified force that cut across clan lines,' said the relief worker (not an Itihad member). 'The people trusted them.'

Now the marines have stepped up their policy of disarming gunmen, and Somali relief workers and officials say that they have launched some house-to-house searches, especially against suspected Islamic militants.

'We welcomed the Americans because the government had broken down and there was a lot of clan warfare,' said Ali Osman, a leading town elder. 'But it is a problem for us if the weapons are simply collected, because when the marines leave we will again be vulnerable to the gangs with arms as we were in the past.'

ADDIS ABABA - Somalia's warlords yesterday reached agreement on implementing aspects of a ceasefire during peace talks, AFP reports. A national reconciliation conference is to be held in Addis Ababa on 15 March.

In Mogadishu, three Somali fighters were killed and one was wounded yesterday in a gunbattle with US marines near the American embassy.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence