SOMALIA: Insecurity grips Kismayo

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Gangs of armed men have set up roadblocks in and around Somalia's coastal city of Kismayo, 500km south of Mogadishu, causing serious insecurity.

"People’s livelihoods are at stake and aid agencies have abandoned Kismayo because of the security problem," said Dahir Ali, an official with the human rights group SEDHURO. "This needs a resolution now."

He said: "There is a roadblock on every corner and street, making it very difficult for people to conduct their day-to-day activities."

Most international aid agencies have left Kismayo due to the insecurity. In January, services at the only hospital were halted after four people - including two foreign aid workers - were killed in a blast.

The two aid workers, a Kenyan surgeon, Dr Victor Okumu, 51, and French logistician Damien Lehalle, 27, were working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Holland), which was running the hospital.

Ali said the insecurity posed by the many roadblocks was due to a lack of "a proper and effective local administration".

However, Bile Abdi, a city elder, said local leaders were working hard to contain the situation and solve the problem "once and for all".

Abdi said the main problem was a mutiny by local security personnel over non-payment of salaries.

"We are going to resolve the salary issue today or tomorrow," he said. "Once that is solved, all security personnel will be encamped, thus allowing for the identification and arrest of the freelance gunmen who have been the major cause of insecurity in the town.

"There is a meeting of all clans going on right now to bring every clan on board to fight the criminals as a unified community," Abdi said.

However, a Kismayo businessman, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that city residents had little faith that local leaders would deal with the problem.

"This is something that keeps coming back and only an effective administration can deal with it," he said.

He added that the clans needed to come together to set up a unified and strong administration: "I don’t know what they are afraid of."

Ali said local leaders were caught up in the fight between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and insurgents, mostly loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC, which was in control of much of south-central Somalia, was ousted by combined Ethiopian and TFG forces in December 2006.

He said if an administration was set up and one side or the other saw it as "pro-UIC or TFG, then it is doomed before it even begins work. That is why it is taking so long to come up with one. They want to make sure that neither side is offended."

He, however, warned that the city could not be kept "in no man's land for long".