17 October 2007

Somalia: UN Compound Stormed Amid Escalating Violence in Mogadishu

Nairobi — Dozens of heavily armed government security officials detained the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) office in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 17 October, an act decried by the UN organisation as a violation of international law.

In a statement, WFP called for "the immediate release of Mr Idris Osman, WFP's officer-in-charge of our Mogadishu office, who was taken at gunpoint by the Somali National Security Service (NSS) after the storming of a UN compound in Mogadishu this morning at 0815 local time by 50-60 heavily armed and uniformed members of the NSS.

"Mr Osman is being held in a cell at NSS headquarters near the presidential palace. WFP has not received any explanation for this action, which violates international law. International law also bars authorities from entering UN premises without prior UN permission," the statement said.

No shots were fired during the incident, it added.

"WFP is urgently taking up his detention with the government," WFP spokesman Marcus Prior told IRIN.

A civil society source described the detention as "another indication of the government's unwillingness to allow for unfettered aid to reach the population.".

Following the incident, WFP suspended food distribution in Mogadishu, where 75,000 people have been receiving its aid.

The incident occurred a day after armed insurgents opposed to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) mounted a major offensive against targets in Mogadishu.

Local sources said fighting was most intense in Hawl Wadag district, south Mogadishu, with government reinforcements unable to dislodge the insurgents. The insurgents captured Hawl Wadag police station but left early in the morning.

The attacks and response from Ethiopian-backed government troops with heavy artillery fire forced families to flee their homes. "We are getting reports of many families leaving the three districts affected [Hawl Wadag, Hodan and Wardigley]," one Mogadishu resident said.

A doctor told IRIN that at least 10 people had been killed, including a six-year-old child, and more than 30 were injured in the attacks.

"Last night, the city experienced some of the heaviest attacks by the insurgents since April," a local journalist told IRIN. "Normally they [insurgents] target one base or camp in a hit and run, but last night the attacks targeted three districts, Hawl Wadag, Hodan and Wardigley, at the same time."

The violence came as parliament, meeting in Baidoa, 240km northwest of the capital, debated the future of Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi after 22 ministers allied to President Abdullahi Yusuf signed a letter demanding a vote of no confidence in the government.

Justice Minister Hassan Dhimbil Warsame and a supporter of Yusuf said they took the action "after it became very clear that this government was not up to the job and has failed to deliver what the Somali people wanted".

Gedi and his supporters dismissed the move as "unprocedural" and were lobbying parliament to reject the motion. "We have the numbers on our side and we will defeat any motion brought before the parliament," said Salad Ali Jeele, deputy defence minister.

But an analyst said the vote may be averted "by international players like Ethiopia and the US", who would also put pressure on the two to sort out their differences.

"The clash is over power and control for resources," said Timothy Othieno, Horn of Africa analyst at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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