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Somalia's Security Crisis Shifts to Remote Villages

Increased security in ports has forced many armed looters to seek easier targets - convoys of trucks transporting food to famine-stricken villages

I DID not even get his name.

The gaunt-faced boy was lying on a mat under a tree in a mostly outdoor feeding center. Just two days earlier, someone had brought him to this gun-infested town from an outlying village.

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The boy feebly tried to sip a clear re-hydration liquid that Somali nurse Amina Sheik Mohammed spooned into his mouth. A moment later, he died. Ms. Mohammed looked up, her eyes showing the anguish of another life lost in Somalia's ongoing crisis of anarchy and civil war. After a brief pause, the nurse walked to where a dozen other starving children lay on mats, and carefully took another frail child in her arms.

This feeding center, run by the Irish charity Concern, has nourished hundreds of children back to strength during the past few months. But as armed looters shift from urban areas to remote villages, where the growing convoys of relief food are an easier target, more Somalis are being displaced.

About 200 people die here each day, according to Louise Supple, an Irish nurse with Concern. Looters have stolen the corrugated iron roofs from many of the structures in Baidoa. Some perish from exposure to the cold rains now beginning. Many more fail to respond to nourishment that has come too late, Ms. Supple says.

Getting food to Baidoa is no longer the main problem. About 1,650 tons of food from the United Nations, United States, Canada, and Germany have arrived since the airlift began Aug. 25, according to the UN World Food Programme.

But getting food to remote villages, which must be trucked rather than airlifted, has become extremely dangerous.

Merv Zigenbine of Care estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the village-bound convoys are being attacked. "It's a way of life to loot and steal," he says. "If we could get rid of the guns, we'd be able to get a lot more food in to villages."

In late September, 12 Somalis guarding a relief convoy were killed, Mr. Zigenbine says. On Friday, gunmen raided a storage warehouse here.

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"We need the UN military," a Somali relief worker says. Although the last of 500 armed UN troops from Pakistan arrived in Somalia Sept. 29, their assignment calls only for guarding food distribution in Mogadishu, the port capital.

(Mohammed Sahnoun, the UN special representative for Somalia, last week secured an agreement to send 750 Canadian troops to the northeastern port of Bossasso in November.)

The security crisis has drawn a flurry of international attention. Irish President Mary Robinson visited Baidoa Saturday; she is the first foreign head of state to have observed the famine in Somalia.

President Bush's special coordinator for Somali relief, Andrew Natsios, has promised developmental assistance - for water systems, electricity, and cattle vaccinations - to areas where clan elders and local authorities have brought looting under control.

Mr. Sahnoun is due to convene an emergency conference in Geneva Oct. 12-13 to discuss security and food distribution.

The attacks on village-bound relief convoys are rooted in inter-clan rivalries. Most of the local Somalis are members of the Rahanweyn clan, a largely agricultural people located between the Juba and Schebele Rivers. The gunmen, they say, are members of the Habar-Gedir.

The Habar-Gedir comprise the backbone of the rebel United Somali Congress forces under Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, one of two strongmen fighting for power in Mogadishu. The USC helped topple Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991, but forces loyal to the fallen dictator maintained control of Baidoa until April this year, when they finally fell to the USC.

Though the Rahanweyn were not aligned closely with the USC, some members joined the rebel revolt against Mr. Said Barre. Badly mistreated by Siad Barre's troops for cooperating with the USC, the Rahanweyn now express strong resentment for the Habar-Gedir who control Baidoa and nearby villages.

"They loot us; they shoot us. They have the heavy guns," a Rahanweyn says.

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