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
News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
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

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Design and Technology Teacher ...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past