Vultures wait to pounce on aid: Jonathan Clayton of Reuters describes how gangs of Somali gunmen have turned the distribution of essential food supplies into a high-risk undertaking

MOGADISHU - This port ranks as one of the most dangerous corners of a dangerous city. Attracted by its high revenue potential in a land of nothing, gangs of teenage gunmen and crippled ex- soldiers hang around in the hope of easy pickings as boats arrive to discharge food for Somalia's starving people.

The port is nominally controlled by three groups - the port police of the former regime of fallen dictator Siad Barre, fighters linked to the Mogadishu warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, and the Hashaamud - a mixed group of gunmen from a variety of clans.

But a number of freelance gunmen and gangs lie in wait on the fringes - human scavengers waiting for a chance to pounce.

The most notorious and feared of these is a group of cripples, at least 50 strong, who live together to one side of the port compound in a village of abandoned shipping containers. Most are fighters who lost limbs in the battle to depose Siad Barre and have now been forgotten in a country that has since dissolved into murderous anarchy.

'They are mean. They were wounded in the fight against Siad, promised the earth, but have found themselves limbless in the dirt,' said Steve Tomlin, relief coordinator for the American charity International Medical Corps. Mr Tomlin and aid relief workers say the group is desperate and has no qualms over shooting to kill for the most meagre scraps of food or goods that can be traded. 'In many ways, they are symbols of Mogadishu today.'

The cripples and the other forgotten helpless of this bombed- out, ruined capital, where only the gun now rules, see aid organisations bringing in food for dying babies, but not for them. 'They are a very bitter group and very, very dangerous.'

Sitting in his wheelchair in the shade of a rusty, battered container, near the blocked-off entrance to the quayside, Mahed Adan, a 20-year-old member of the gang, said he lost his leg in the battle to oust Siad Barre. 'It was two years ago,' he said, an AK-47 lying menacingly across his lap. 'Now, I have nothing.'

The three main security groups, totalling about 900 men, rotate the patrolling of different sections of the port.

Aid organisations have to pay the guards to protect the cargo as it comes off the boats and on to trucks that are supposed to take it to nearby feeding centres. Almost every day, someone is shot in a squabble over a loose bag or a quarrel over payment.

One day this week, at least 10 people died when teenage gunmen, in a vehicle with the roof sawn off and an anti-aircraft gun bolted on to the back, tried to stop another group entering.

'It's incredible . . . you just can't tell what is going to happen,' said Ian Cameron, a worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross. 'One moment it's quiet, next all hell has broken loose and a few people are lying dead.'

Aid organisations say everything has to be negotiated time and time again as agreements constantly fail. Food cannot be stored in warehouses or it will be looted.

'The port is an extremely volatile and unpredictable place,' said Ian Macleod, of the United Nations Children's Fund. 'Our priority must be to get it sorted out, it is the most important facility for getting food into Somalia.'

The UN has agreed to send 500 armed Pakistani troops to control the port and escort food convoys to distribution centres, where scores of children die each day. But relief workers say the UN does not really have a plan of what to do with the groups who stand to lose out or a clear idea of what mandate the troops should have.

'The looting will not stop because of the arrival of Blue Berets. If they want to stop it and bring security to the port, they will have to be very well-armed and able to go on the offensive,' Mr Tomlin said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Ideal candidates for the role m...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific