By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — Leaders of the Somali community in Australia, the Somali Relief Association and Community Aid Abroad have protested against the recent military actions by United States and United Nations forces in Somalia. The Somali community has been organising peaceful protests outside the US consulate in Melbourne and is struggling to have its voice heard in the establishment media.
Abdi Guled, chairperson of the United Somali Organisation of Australia, said that the massacres of innocent people by US and UN forces was "calculated murder" and a violation of basic human rights.
Mohamed Ismail, a leader of the Somali community and former president of the Somali Relief Association, told Green Left Weekly that the Somali people see that the UN is no longer neutral.
"The US is aligning itself with certain factions in Somalia, strengthening the factions aligned to the former dictator Siad Barre, who had been propped up for a decade with US arms and funds", said Ismail.
"The US attacks will have an after-effect of eroding the possibility of dialogue between the various Somali factions. This is not in keeping with the Addis Ababa talks [which supposedly guide the UN's role in Somalia] and could further polarise and divide the Somali people."
Mohamed Ismail said that General Mohamed Farrah Aideed — the main target of the US actions — had actually initiated a process of bringing together civil and clan leaders to discuss processes for reconciliation. There was a meeting of Somali groups in Mogadishu in late May which displeased the US because the UN forces were not invited.
This meeting sought to draft a peace agreement for the country's southern and central regions. Leaders from
powerful clans such as the Darood, Hawiye, Rahawein and Ogaden participated, and a dialogue was proceeding successfully until it was disrupted by recent events. (A similar peace agreement was reached in the north, now Somaliland — without UN assistance — in a series of meeting organised by clan elders in the town of Borama in March and April.)
A brief reference to the Mogadishu meeting by SBS news on May 30 quoted UN officials as dismissing the meeting as "unofficial". Ismail believes that this meeting might have motivated the UN forces to stage a provocation which led to the killing of 23 Pakistani/UN troops on June 5.
The incident began with what was seen by forces loyal to General Aideed's Somali National Alliance as an attack on the only radio station in Somalia still controlled by Somali people, said Ismail. "Now all we have are US propaganda broadcasts."
"Whilst the media played up the fact that 23 Pakistani troops were killed in this incident, there were no references to the hundreds of Somalis killed or injured", he said.
Ismail believes that the UN/US attacks on Aideed are an attack on an indigenous conflict resolution process. "The Somalis could not be seen to be addressing the crisis themselves. US credibility was at stake because they would then not be seen to be responsible for reconciliation."
The US/UN forces have taken sides with particular factions from the beginning of their intervention, he said. They were quick to install as president Ali Mahdi, a wealthy businessman who profited from the corruption of the US-backed Siad Barre dictatorship. The April issue of New African revealed Barre's plan to make a violent comeback in Somalia. (He is currently in exile in Nigeria.)
The anti-Barre movement, including Aideed, was portrayed by the pro-US media simply as "warlords", said Ismail. In February, UN/US forces helped drive anti-Barre forces from Kismayu, the main southern port. Australian troops did the same in Baidoa.
Community Aid Abroad's executive director, Jeremy Hobbs, is also critical of the recent UN military action in Somalia. He called for a halt to all military action and said the "UN's priority should be to further political reconciliation and reconstruction".
He said that the recent UN/US military intervention jeopardised CAA's work, which includes highly successful agricultural programs in the Shebelle and Juba river valleys, where more than 90,000 people have received seeds and tools and have just had a good harvest.
CAA is Australia's largest independent aid agency and has operated in Somalia since 1982. It also helped fund the peace conference in Somaliland, and Hobbs believes this may serve as a "model for a return to civil authority in southern Somalia".
A detailed account of the Borama peace process in Somaliland was published in the May-June issue of Africa Report, a publication of the London-based group Africa Rights. Rakiya Omaar, co-director of Africa Rights and one of Somalia's best-known human rights activists, dispassionately described the efforts of clan elders to broker a peace in the least developed and most war-ravaged part of Somalia. But she also warned that "the continued failure of the UN to deal with the political and economic reality of Somaliland threatens to undermine the elders' peace efforts".
The UN has been considering sending armed units into Somaliland. However, UN military intervention — already costing 10 times more than has been spent on humanitarian aid to Somalia — is not what is needed, argued Omaar.
The Somali community in Melbourne has called another protest outside the US consulate for July 1 at 11 a.m. Further information can be obtained from the Somali Relief Association (03) 654 3324.