U.N. Troops Deployed at Somalia’s International Airport
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ U.N. troops sent to Somalia six weeks ago to protect famine-relief shipments spent their first full day of deployment Wednesday guarding the fractured nation’s international airport.
A U.N. spokeswoman in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, said 120 troops are working in tandem with 200 Somalis of the Hawadle clan. The clan has controlled the airport and commanded lucrative landing fees since March.
The U.N. airport guards, who took up position for several hours on Tuesday, are among 500 troops from Pakistan who have been largely confined to the former Somali air force barracks at the airport since arriving in September.
The U.N. Security Council authorized their deployment to protect Mogadishu’s airport and the port, the main points of entry for relief supplies. Gunbattles between militias and bandits have regularly forced the ports to close, and some aid officials estimate as much as half the 200,000 tons of aid delivered to Somalia this year has been stolen.
Drought and warfare already have killed more than 100,000 people, and the United Nations estimates 2 million more of the nation’s 6.5 million people are threatened with immediate starvation.
Deployment of the U.N. troops was delayed by objections from Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Somalia’s main warlord, and by negotiations with the Hawadle.
Aidid’s forces are widely blamed for much of the looting, and their loyalty presumably would evaporate if their food sources were to dry up.
The Hawadle have controlled the airport since March, and have extorted thousands of dollars daily in landing and other fees. They will continue to collect the money despite the U.N. presence, the U.N. spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the head of the U.N. forces, Brig. Gen. Imtiaz Shaheen, was trying to work out the deployment of troops at the port with Aidid. The warlord’s forces control the facility and command docking fees of $25,000 per ship.
Aidid has agreed in principle to the deployment of the Pakistani troops, but is blocking deployment of additional troops in southern Somalia. Other warlords in the north and northeast have agreed to the deployment next month of 750 troops each in the ports of Berbera and Bossasso.
Many had feared deployment of the U.N. forces would spark violence, but the U.N. spokeswoman said there had been no problems.
The airport reopened Sunday after being closed for three weeks because of shooting incidents. Relief planes have been flying into a dirt airstrip 30 miles west of Mogadishu since then, and some aid agency officials said they would continue to do so until it was clear that Mogadishu airport was under control.
″We think we’ll check it out for a few more days,″ said Gwen Gourgeault of the International Medical Corps, an aid agency based in Los Angeles.