Massacre began on eve of U.S. troops' landing

December 29, 1992|By Jane Perlez | Jane Perlez,New York Times News Service

KISMAYU, Somalia -- More than 100 religious leaders an business executives, a doctor and other prominent residents of this port city were hunted door to door and killed in three nights of terror that began on the eve of the U.S. landing in Mogadishu, Somalian witnesses and U.S. diplomats say.

The killings were directed by the clan leader who controls Kismayu in a move to eliminate educated Somalis who might support the Americans, U.S. officials in Somalia said in interviews over the past two days. All of the victims were members of the Harti clan, which has deep roots here and regards other clans as occupiers.

The clan leader who ordered the killings was identified as Col. Omar Jess, a member of the Ogadeni clan, who seized control of Kismayu in May. His public statements seem to support the assessment of the U.S. officials, who are directing more than 20,000 troops in securing relief supplies for this famine- and war-ravaged country.

The night the killings began, trucks roared through town and wild gunshots could be heard as members of the Harti clan were pulled from their homes and killed on the edge of the town, Somalian witnesses said.

The killing is continuing sporadically, Somalis say, adding that the timing and the circumstances of the massacre show the treacherous nature of the clan politics that the Americans are stepping into in Somalia.

Colonel Jess, who has tried to ingratiate himself with the Americans, apparently used their impending arrival as an excuse to wipe out rivals, an associate said. On Dec. 19, 11 days after the first killings, the clan leader warmly welcomed President Bush's special envoy to Somalia, Robert B. Oakley. The next day, U.S. troops arrived in Kismayu.

The colonel also has a strong ally in Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, one of the two clan leaders who control Mogadishu and who have been the focus of Western diplomatic efforts.

Details of the killing spree were pieced together from Somalis who escaped or who hid Harti clan members, and from Western relief workers whose agencies have tried to protect Harti employees.

Many Somalis interviewed in the last two days said they wanted the story to get out, but, fearful of retribution, they insisted on anonymity.

One survivor, a man in his 20s, said he was blindfolded with five others after Jess loyalists broke into his house at 3 a.m. Dec. 9. He said the women in the house were beaten with guns and the men were driven in a "technical" -- a souped-up jeep with arms on board -- to the beach.

The four Harti in the group were lined up and shot, the survivor said in an interview. The survivor and another man pleaded with the gunmen, saying they were not Hartis, and the killers took them to a Jess encampment until morning, then released them.

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