UN Airlifts 160 Foreigners From Somali Town Claimed By Rebels
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The United Nations on Friday began airlifting 160 foreigners out of the northern Somalia town of Hargeisa, which rebels claimed they overran this week.
Three light aircraft ferried 83 people from Hargeisa to the nearby town of Garowe before the operation stopped because of a curfew, said the British High Commission in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
The airlift, coordinated by the U.N. Development Program, was to resume Saturday.
There are 25 Britons and about 20 Americans among the 160 foreigners, said diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity. They did not have a breakdown on the other nationalities. Most of the foreigners are aid workers.
The Somali National Movement, engaged in a 7-year-old struggle to overthrow the government of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, claimed it took Hargeisa on Tuesday and the main port of Berbera a day later.
Diplomats in Mogadishu said there was light fighting but that Hargeisa was in government hands.
″Berbera is peaceful but tense,″ British diplomats in Mogadishu said in a telex message. ″There are no immediate plans for evacuation.″
The government has not commented on the fighting.
Rebel officials, reached by telephone in London and in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, claimed their forces controlled Hargeisa and were battling soldiers holed up in barracks near the airport, six miles outside the town.
Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, chairman of the rebel movement, said in a telephone interview from London that 20,000 to 30,000 civilians were fighting alongside his forces, whose strength he refused to reveal.
″Siad Barre has been arming the people for years to fight each other in tribal conflicts. Now they are using those guns against him,″ Silanyo said.
Richard Greenfield, an Oxford University professor and a political adviser to the Somali government from 1977-86, said he believed civilians were joining the rebel forces, which had not been particularly effective until now.
″I think this is the most serious confrontation that Siad has faced in the whole of his career,″ Greenfield said.
Silanyo said he did not know how many government troops were involved, but he said scores had defected to the movement.
Silanyo, a former minister of commerce and planing under Siad Barre, was elected the rebel movement’s chairman in 1984.
Siad Barre took power in a 1969 military coup.
Silanyo said the rebel offensive was timed to coincide with the north’s spring rainy season when the thick mud makes movement difficult for the government’s tanks and heavy artillery.