Famine fighters battle 'rule by the gun' Clan warfare, looting are viewed as biggest problems

December 02, 1992|By New York Times News Service

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The port is closed, a ship with 10,00 tons of food for the starving has been diverted to Kenya and

cocky teen-age guards with assault rifles loll around the docks demanding cash even though aid convoys have ceased to move.

"Everything we've done here promotes rule by the gun," said Russ Ulray, a deskbound and frustrated logistics officer for the U.N. World Food Program.

The shelling of a U.N. vessel last week by forces of one of Somalia's warlords, the growing threats of violence, and now the prospect of U.S. troops to protect aid workers, have put much of the U.N. effort to feed tens of thousands of Somalis on hold.

Clan warfare and looting are viewed as the relief operation's paramount problems, preventing delivery of food from Mogadishu and country airstrips to the nation's hungry.

But even before operations came to a standstill, the effort had largely become hostage to a more complex system of theft and extortion involving port workers, truck drivers and avaricious security guards.

Some Somalis have suggested that U.N. officials have been naive, caving in too easily to ever-greater cash demands from guards and truckers and failing to devise incentives to insure that supplies arrive at their destinations.

Today, U.N. warehouses are brimming with food and medicine, but the trucks stand idle.

A surge in looting in Mogadishu in the last month has coincided with the arrival of larger amounts of food, convincing many relief workers that bigger aid shipments mean more plunder for the greedy, not more sustenance for the needy.

U.N. officials acknowledge the possibility that 80 percent of U.N. food that has moved through Mogadishu, the main port, has disappeared through theft, ambushes and extortion.

And this, they add, despite large expenditures on security.

The so-called security guards, mostly teen-agers with sunglasses and "I Am the Boss" T-shirts, have been clamoring for larger compensation.

"At the port, we were paying by check twice a month," Mr. Ulray said. "Now they want it in cash every four days.

They come demanding it with four technicals, and they say what they want in a relatively threatening way -- so it's given to them."

"Technicals" are the souped-up jeeps with machine guns that all aid agencies hire to protect supplies.

The United Nations also has 500 guard troops here from Pakistan, but they are not allowed to shoot unless they are fired on.

In mid-October, the former U.N. special representative to Somalia, Mohammed Sahnoun, said that up to 40 percent of the donated food was being stolen by gunmen. Last week, Andrew S. Natsios, the coordinator for humanitarian affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said 80 percent was being looted or lost to extortion.

Many aid officials, including those with the United Nations, said the estimate of 80 percent was excessive if all the food brought into Somalia by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations was counted. The Red Cross has suffered less from looting than the United Nations has, they added.

The United Nations pays $150,000 every month to maintain the port with 900 security guards and 11 jeeps with armed fighters, according to Jim Stearns, the deputy head of CARE, the international aid agency, which also organizes the delivery of U.N. food in Somalia. Guards' families also are allotted food from the aid shipments.

As well as now being paid in cash, members of the security staff also get more food for their families. From the last U.N. ship, the guards got 240 tons of the cargo aboard the 4,000-ton ship. "That's what it says on paper," Mr. Ulray said. "It's the demand on top of the 240 tons that is the killer."

The jeeps and their guards can cost from $75 to $120 a day each; much of that is spent by the fighters on khat, a plant they chew that has some of the properties of amphetamines.

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