Guns, hunger form a deadly combination in town of Baidoa OPERATION RESTORE HOPE Gunmen, driven from Mogadishu, disrupt relief efforts

December 11, 1992|By New York Times News Service

BAIDOA, Somalia -- Gunmen, some of them flushed fro Mogadishu by the arrival of American troops, have terrorized this town at the epicenter of the Somali famine in the past few days, killing, looting, and preventing relief agencies from feeding the hungry.

Local people, more afraid than usual, said food was of secondary importance. They wanted the guns confiscated.

"I'm very nervous," Adan Ahmed Isaak, a field officer for the Somali Red Crescent Society, said yesterday. "The Americans made a big mistake by coming only to Mogadishu instead of coming to the whole country. At what time will they come here? They are so late. If they don't come soon, we will be in big trouble."

When they do arrive in Baidoa, the foreign troops will find a town where most people look remarkably better than the barely moving skeletons of six months ago. But it is a place that has plenty of despair.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the famine hit here earlier this year, and about 30,000 people are still dependent on food handouts even though the surrounding countryside is now green after heavy rains and in some places, sprouting maize.

The cattle that would have grazed on the new grass, providing milk that would have fed most of the Somalis in this region, died or were stolen long ago.

Perhaps more than anywhere in Somalia, Baidoa has symbolized the deadly combination of hunger and guns. Last month, a convoy of 400 tons of grain was looted just outside the town, and since then food has been flown but not trucked into Baidoa.

On Wednesday, a truck of the Somali Red Crescent picked up the bodies of 65 people who had died overnight of disease and hunger, 44 of them adults. It was not an unusually high number; every day, more than 50 bodies are collected and buried, and such figures are a vast improvement compared with the more than 300 who were dying daily in September. But the deaths enrage Mr. Isaak, who blames armed men.

"Today, the first meal at our kitchens went OK," Mr. Isaak said. "But we couldn't give the second meal because of the gunmen . . . ."

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