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Somali Refugees Begin Returning To Village, But Huge Problems Lie Ahead With AM-Somali

November 16, 1992

Somali Refugees Begin Returning To Village, But Huge Problems Lie Ahead With AM-Somali Refugees, Bjt

MELKAHARI, Somalia (AP) _ Seven months ago, Habiba Sheikh was sitting in front of her grass hut when clan gunmen burst into the village and opened fire. Her husband was killed, and Habiba fled with their eight children.

Now she and other villagers have returned to try to rebuild their lives.

When the people of Melkahari fled, most headed to the Kenyan border, six miles away, where Western relief officials eventually built refugee camps that became jammed with Somali refugees.

The relief workers are helping the Somali villagers return home and resettle. But it is a daunting task.

It could take many years for Somalia to recover from the famine and civil war that has killed 300,000 people, according to U.N. estimates.

Many of the people of Melkahari, a village of about 6,000 along a crocodile-filled river, are returning only because they are close enough to the border to flee again if necessary.

″I came back because the relief officials have assured us of our security and enemy clan gunmen don’t control this area anymore,″ said Habiba, 40. ″If there is enough security here, we will stay.″

Many of the villagers say they will need help for a long time.

″I want the Westerners to stay here until security is OK and our lives have returned to normal - about two years,″ said Abbi Rashid, 30, who escaped the fighting with his wife and five children.

He still weeps when he recalls how the gunmen killed his other wife and their five children.

The village chief, Sheikh Hassan, 52, who saw four of his 11 children die of starvation, said the village would need international aid ″until we can repair Somalia, in about four years.″

But one of the village’s main relief groups, Trocaire of Ireland, only plans to provide them food for six months.

Other relief agencies are providing the village with medicine and medical treatment, and giving the farmers seed and new pumps so they can plant their fields and irrigate them from the river.

The clansmen who invaded the village in April blew up or set fire to all the homes, stole all the stored food, destroyed irrigation pumps and made off with all the camels, cows and goats owned by the wealthier village members.

Rick Austin, a Trocaire leader, and Somali workers delivered several truckloads of food and water to the village, where some crops have already been planted. He gave it to the clan leader so he could distribute it according to the complicated clan network.

But a shouting match broke out between the armed villagers guarding the supplies and another Somali who lives nearby. Eventually, he and the village chief reached an agreement.

The dispute underscored the difficulty in distributing aid amid the chaos of Somalia’s clan rivalries.

″This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the Wild West,″ Austin said later. ″The village chief is trying to be a sheriff, but he can’t manage.″

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