Unicef quits town after British aid man killed

MOGADISHU - The United Nations Children's Fund said yesterday it had pulled out its international staff from the southern Somali port of Kismayu after a Somali gunman shot dead a British Unicef worker, writes Karl Maier.

A Belgian priest conducted a memorial service in Kismayu, 250 miles south of the capital Mogadishu, yesterday for Sean Devereux, who was shot dead on Saturday. Representatives from all the aid agencies operating in the town attended the service.

Devereux's murder, the first of a foreigner in Somalia since the arrival of American-led forces last month, underscored the dangerous climate that continues to exist in Somalia despite the arrival of nearly 30,000 foreign troops, the bulk of them American, to protect food-relief convoys. Several Unicef vehicles have been shot at or hijacked in the past week. The United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had to cut short his three-hour visit to Somalia yesterday after a crowd of 500 Somalis laid siege to the headquarters of the United Nations Operation in Somalia.

Devereux, 28, of Camberley, Surrey, was the Unicef officer in charge at Kismayu. Unicef officials said they had sent a representative to Kismayu to investigate the murder, which occurred within the Unicef compound.

The motive for the murder remained unknown. The US Marine spokesman, Colonel Fred Peck told reporters yesterday that Devereux was murdered by his own guards after he told them he was cutting their salaries. '(He) told his security force that he was no longer going to pay them inflated wages,' Col Peck said. 'As he was leaving after making this announcement he was shot in the back several times and killed.' But Col Peck retracted that statement, and a Unicef official said he doubted a pay dispute was behind the murder.

'My initial report turned out to be wrong,' Col Peck said. Unicef sources, who asked not to be identified, said Devereux was shot three times in the back of the head and the middle and lower spine by a lone gunman who fled. He appeared to have been singled out as a target, they added.

Devereux, the son of Irish parents, had reportedly been a source for the reports about massacres at the hands of Col Ahmed Omar Jess, the main warlord in the area, which occurred in Kismayu shortly before the arrival of the US marines. A sports enthusiast, Devereux had organised the Movement for Peace and Unity Fun Run in Monrovia, Liberia, in May 1991 which attracted 10,000 participants.

In Britain, tribute was paid yesterday to Devereux, PA reports. His father, Dermot, speaking from the family home in Yateley, Hants, said: 'We have lost someone who was just totally exceptional and of whom we were immensely proud. He did what he did because he wanted to be there. He felt it was just a task of work. He was courageous, but he did not feel any sense of martyrdom.'

(Photograph omitted)