UN Somalia team checks security needs

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The Independent Online
NAIROBI (Reuter) - A United Nations mission, which is assessing prospects for restoring order in Somalia, flew to Kismayu, the country's second port, yesterday to meet leaders of armed groups controlling the south of the country.

UN officials said hundreds of refugees, mainly women and children, had fled Kismayu on overcrowded dhows in the past few weeks to seek refuge in Kenya. The formerly thriving port, badly damaged after fighting between rival groups, was suffering severe food and water shortages.

The UN mission, headed by a Dane, Peter Hansen, includes representatives from the UN Children's Fund, the World Health Organisation and other agencies working in Somalia. It is investigating security requirements for protecting a massive relief effort for the hundreds of Somalis who are dying daily amid famine and drought. Relief supplies are often stolen by fighters from the rival groups.

The team has held talks in Mogadishu with the self-styled president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, and his main rival, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the most powerful of Somalia's warlords. Gen Aideed controls most of the country, except the north where the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland is in control.

In Kismayu, the mission is to sound out local guerrilla leaders on deployment of neutral military observers on the nearby Kenyan border to deter armed incursions into Kenya by guerrillas.

Last week the UN mission spent two days visiting Bardera, Baidoa and Belet Huen, where they saw starving women and children, and well-fed guerrilla fighters. Aid workers were unable to move sufficient food to feed the starving civilians because of lack of security on land and the difficulty of protecting supplies landed at Mogadishu by ship.

On the local arms market, a Kalashnikov or M16 automatic rifle can be bought for 800,000 Somali shillings, the equivalent of about pounds 50, and a rocket-launcher costs only a few dollars more. It is not clear where the guns come from although the stock reply from supporters of Gen Aideed and Ali Mahdi is that they belonged to the armed forces of the former president, Siad Barre. In fact, the two factions are believed to have obtained new ammunition from Yemen, Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, experts say. It is also suspected that they are taking advantage of the present lull in the fighting to build up new munitions stockpiles in case the civil war should resume.

The mission is expected to emphasise, in its report to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the need for troops to escort and protect the aid workers and food supplies. So far Gen Aideed has refused to allow in armed UN personnel.