By Norm Dixon
"People were running away from the demonstration before the firing even started, including these people here who were hiding behind a pick-up truck, one a small boy. His head was blown off, that's his brain smeared all over the ground there." Eyewitness Paul Wilson, speaking on ABC radio, was describing the dreadful massacre of 20 unarmed demonstrators and bystanders in Mogadishu on June 13 by UN "peacekeepers". At least 50 people were wounded.
"They were children, they obviously had no weapons. They were afraid of the demonstration themselves and were trying to get away from it!"
Witnesses and journalists reported that no warnings were given before the UN troops opened fire. All present agree no gunshots emanated from the demonstration, although some reports suggested the UN troops may have been fired at from a nearby building. The UN troops, on the roof of the highest building in the area, were never at risk from the protesters.
Shortly afterwards, reported ABC correspondent James Schofield, three UN armoured personnel carriers swept past the dead and the dying, ignoring pleas for help. The UN command refused to confine to barracks the troops responsible.
The day before, three people were shot dead by UN troops in a demonstration outside the UN military headquarters.
Those responsible for the carnage were part of the Pakistani contingent serving with UN forces in Somalia, the largest contingent of the total UN force of 18,000. The media, US and UN officials widely interpreted, and excused, the massacre as an act of retribution for the deaths of 23 Pakistani UN troops on June 5.
The massacre came as outrage in Mogadishu was rising at the civilian casualties being caused by US/UN forces. Several thousand angry demonstrators had gathered to protest against the previous day's killings of protesters and air strikes on positions of the capital's dominant militia commander, General Aideed, whom the US and UN Security Council have blamed for the June 5 deaths.
The attacks have been carried out using withering and indiscriminate firepower from the US military's most sophisticated helicopter gunships. Aid workers reported that prior to the first attack on June 12, UN officials had warned them to expect "collateral damage" (i.e. civilian deaths) during the raids.
The first raid — broadcast live on CNN and watched by US President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office — lasted several hours. Missiles and rockets rained down on targets until the sky glowed from fires below. A further raid occurred just two hours before the Mogadishu massacre. As many as 37 Somalis may have died in these attacks.
On June 14, a US/UN air strike on a derelict rocket launcher, again broadcast throughout the world, took the life of a woman tea-seller on a busy Mogadishu street and seriously injured up to 12 others. The rocket launcher had been declared inoperative by UN examiners in February.
In an attempt to sow terror among the civilian population of Mogadishu, US/UN helicopters continuously dropped bright flares and broadcast recordings of machine-gun fire and bomb blasts through loudspeakers during following nights.
The heaviest air strikes occurred on June 17. A US-led assault by helicopters, warplanes and UN ground troops flattened Aideed's Mogadishu house and surrounding buildings. At least 19 Somalis died in the attack. The buildings of several aid agencies nearby were hit by rockets. A Somali employee of a French aid agency was among the dead.
Aideed has denied any responsibility for the deaths of UN troops on June 5, and there is confusion over the events of that day. According to the Sweden-based
Somalia News Update, UN troops were scheduled to inspect Aideed's arms warehouses as part of an agreed disarmament process. However, Aideed's followers feared that the US and Pakistani troops' real mission was to seize Radio Mogadishu. Hundreds of angry civilians entered the streets and captured a number of the UN troops.
In the ensuing chaos 23 Pakistani troops were killed. "The 25 killed and 103 wounded Somalis are not likely to be mentioned by the international media", a spokesperson for Aideed added bitterly at the time. Soon after the clash, a UN spokesperson said in a BBC interview that the identity of the people resisting the UN troops was uncertain.
Several days later, the UN suddenly changed its version of events to claim that 12 of the UN troops had actually been killed outside a feeding station by gunmen who "hid" behind approaching women.
The US/UN is now intent on crippling the forces of General Aideed. Over recent months Aideed's faction of the United Somali Congress, in alliance with several other small armed groupings, has emerged as the most powerful of rival factions. Despite Aideed's undoubtedly mercenary motives, it is the one force with any chance of galvanising nationalist opposition to the US/UN takeover of the country.
Most of the other factions have been discredited by their association with the former US-backed dictatorship of Siad Barre.
Aideed's forces have to be weakened or eliminated if the US/UN is to achieve its aim of establishing a long-term protectorate over this strategic region in the Horn of Africa.
Crushing Aideed also provides the US administration the opportunity to establish important precedents. Martin Walker, Washington correspondent for the British Guardian, reported that US officials have announced the "Clinton Doctrine" — the special responsibility of the US to be the military enforcer on behalf of the UN when its
"peacekeeping" operations run into trouble.
During the confrontation with Aideed, the US has doubled its air power in Somalia and boosted its contingent of 4200 troops. Another 4200 US troops set sail from the Persian Gulf to stand by in the Indian Ocean.
The US officially handed over control of its "humanitarian" military invasion, which began on December 9, to the UN on May 4. At its height, the operation involved 35,000 troops from 20 countries, 24,000 from the US.
Somalia is providing precedents for a changed definition of UN "peacekeeping" — from one of monitoring and defence to one of offensive and pre-
"If the UN peacekeepers are to be effective agents for peace and stability in Somalia and elsewhere, they must be capable of using force when necessary to defend themselves and accomplish their goals", Clinton said following the first air strike. Clinton added that the US would continue to play "its unique role of leadership in the world ... through multilateral means, such as the UN, which spread the costs ..." — a statement which aptly describes the contemporary relationship between Washington and the UN.
These views were echoed by the US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, on June 14: "What you will see more and more is assertive multilateralism where [the US] operate internationally as part of a team. The US is obviously a leader."
The latest orgy of killing has exposed the fraud of the US-led, UN-endorsed "humanitarian mission" to ensure that food reached Somalia's starving people. Thirty-five thousand combat troops stormed ashore last December to be met, not by grateful Somalis, but by CNN television cameras. The true aim of the mission was to set a precedent for military intervention in the third world and to defend US economic and military interests.
Somalia's plight was the result of the west's refusal to come to the aid of the Somali people immediately after the January 1991 mass uprising which ousted Siad Barre. Since 1978, the US had propped up the brutal regime to the tune of US$900 million.
The bitter fighting to remove the dictator destroyed Somalia's economy, infrastructure and social fabric. In the final period of the Barre regime, virtually all foreign aid was halted, and UN aid agencies withdrew. They did not return when they were needed most. The UN and the west ignored the chorus of warnings by non-
government organisations that only massive aid could relieve the mounting hunger and defuse the squabbling by armed factions over scarce food supplies.
Having failed to help, Washington and its allies cynically took advantage of the desperate situation. The suffering of starving children offered the perfect opportunity to establish the precedent of unilateral intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations on "humanitarian" grounds.
While there were also clear geopolitical and economic interests to be defended in Somalia — control of the southern entrance to the Red Sea and thus the Suez Canal as well as suspected oil deposits in the north — the precedent of "humanitarian" intervention was US imperialism's greatest gain.
The latest events are calculated to extend this "right" of the US to intervene when and where its interests are under threat.