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Red Cross Reduces Staff Due to Intense Shelling, One Wounded

December 11, 1991

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ A Red Cross worker was shot and seriously wounded in Somalia’s war-torn capital today as rival clans intensified heavy shelling of each other’s positions.

Earlier, the Red Cross said it was withdrawing seven of its 10 staffers from the northern part of the capital, Mogadishu, because their lives were in danger from the indiscriminate bombardments.

The decision appeared unrelated to the wounding of the Red Cross employee, who was shot in the stomach while organizing food distribution at one of the city’s hospitals. He was the first foreigner hurt in a conflict that has killed more than 3,000 people and wounded 7,000 others.

Brigette Meng, a Red Cross official in Nairobi, would not provide personal details about the wounded worker. But she said he was too seriously wounded to be evacuated from the city.

Now in its fourth week, the savage battle pits rival factions of the ruling United Somali Congress in a clan-based power struggle.

Aid workers were the only foreigners to remain in Mogadishu after Congress party rebels drove former President Mohamed Siad Barre from power in January.

The city’s south is controlled by Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the Congress party chairman whose Habar Gedir clan fighters are trying to oust President Ali Mahdi Mohamed. Ali Mahdi’s Abgal clan is resisting the challenge from its stronghold in the northern suburbs.

The Abgal and the Habar Gedir are subgroups of the Hawiiye clan, from which the United Somali Congress draws its support. Both sides are well armed with artillery and other heavy equipment captured from Siad Barre’s army.

Adding to the anarchy are heavily armed bands of looters who answer to neither Aidid nor Ali Mahdi and have been indiscriminately attacking civilians. Hundreds of thousands of the city’s estimated 1 million residents have fled to Mogadishu’s periphery to escape the fighting, but aid workers say civilians still make up the bulk of the casualties.

″The casualties coming into the hospital are really horrific,″ said Mathew Jowett of the British aid group Save the Children, who recently visited the city. ″Shell wounds, bullet wounds - lots of civilians. You see babies coming in with bullet wounds.″

Save the Children, the Red Cross, the French humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, and the U.S.-financed International Medical Corps are aiding Somali doctors at the city’s four hospitals, all in areas under Aidid’s control.

Only the Red Cross also has established a presence in Mogadishu’s northern suburbs, although all of the aid groups are joining forces to send medicine and food to the north by truck and plane.

Aid workers say the supplies are desperately needed, with food, fuel and medicine in increasingly short supply.

Thierry Durand of Doctors Without Borders, just returned from four days in Mogadishu, said much of the seaside city has been flattened by the constant barrages.

″The whole town has been badly destroyed,″ Durand said. ″It is worse than the destruction of January.″

The month of fighting that led to Siad Barre’s ouster in January left the city with its water, power and telecommunications facilities in ruins and most of its buildings damaged.