SOMALIA: Kismayo's only hospital closes as aid workers killed

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Services at the only hospital in Somalia's coastal city of Kismayo, 500km south of the capital Mogadishu, stopped on 29 January, a day after four people - including two foreign aid workers - were killed in a blast, local sources told IRIN.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Holland) took over running the hospital in September 2007, after it had been abandoned by MSF-Belgium in 2001 due to insecurity.

Thousands of demonstrators also took to Kismayo streets to protest at the killing of the two MSF-Holland staff, their driver and a local journalist.

Civil society groups and the local administration organised the protest, according to Hawo Ugas Farah, leader of a women's group and one of the organisers.

"We are demonstrating to show our anger and dismay at the murder of people who had came to help us," Farah said.

She said it was also meant to show the families and friends of the victims that "the people of Kismayo were grieving with them".

The four people were killed on 28 January in what eyewitnesses described as a "bomb blast".

"They just left the hospital to go their residence close by, when the bomb hit," a local journalist, who requested anonymity, said.
The journalist said patients at the hospital were milling around the compound in hopes of getting treatment "but there was no help".

In a statement issued on 29 January, MSF said the dead were a Kenyan surgeon, Dr Victor Okumu, 51, French logistician Damien Lehalle, 27, a local driver, Mohammed Bidhaan. Local sources named the journalist who died as Hassankaafi Hared Ahmed. Four other people, all Somalis, were reported to have been injured in the blast.

"It is with great sadness that we confirm that yesterday morning three staff from Médecins Sans Frontières were killed in the Somali town of Kismayo, not far from the hospital where we work," MSF said.

MSF has evacuated the rest of its staff from Kismayo, the country's third largest city.

"This [killing] was aimed at the people of Kismayo," Kismayo deputy governor Mohamed Nur Hassan said. "Those who committed this murderous act were not targeting the aid workers only but the people of our city."

He said the police were pursuing a number of leads to catch the perpetrators. "We will not rest until we catch them; we will show them as much mercy as they showed us," he said.

He said the city had enjoyed relative peace and calm until this happened. "Whoever did this is an enemy of the people," he added.

The city has declared three days of mourning.

Farah said the international community should understand that the people of Kismayo were "deadly opposed to those who carried out this act".

"Something terrible and tragic happened in Kismayo yesterday, but it will be even more tragic if the world were to punish us [the people] for the deeds of criminals," she said.

She urged the international community "not to abandon the people of Kismayo".

Source: IRIN