TOPICS > Nation

Tensions Among Troops, Insurgents Fuel Further Violence in Somalia

October 15, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, more violence in the troubled East African nation of Somalia. Its neighbor, Ethiopia, invaded Somalia last year, ousting an Islamic government there. The United States has been allied with Ethiopia. Since then, a small contingent of troops from the African Union have been trying to keep peace.

We have a report narrated by Nima Elbagir of Independent Television News. A warning: It contains graphic images.

NIMA ELBAGIR, ITV News Correspondent: It could almost be Baghdad, but this is the forgotten front in the war on terror. Since U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops took the Somali capital in December, roadside bombs have become a daily event.

And even after the bombs go off, it’s never safe. But instead of a coalition and a Green Zone, there’s nothing here to shield the people from the violence.

Insurgents with automatic weapons are taking on an Ethiopian tank. Our cameraman himself has become a target.

There are many ways to die here. Flung amongst those killed by the bombs are those killed by the gunfights. With no way of even verifying the numbers, many families have fled, taking with them only stories of missing loved ones.

Even away from the front line, nobody is safe. A mortar dropped through the roof of this house, killing a mother and her three children. The only surviving member of the family, the father, was taken to the hospital. His family’s remains were taken away in this makeshift coffin.

Madina Hospital, it’s the only place in Mogadishu to go to if you get caught in the crossfire. The wounded vie for places with the sick. In 24 hours, 84 people have been admitted with gunshot wounds.

We found the surviving father here, Abdi Adan — who’s just lost his wife and three children — being treated out in the corridor. The wards are full. He keeps telling our cameraman he wants to talk, to describe what happened, but it’s all too much.

Full wards are no discouragement for the walking wounded. They continue to flood in. Another father is here. He’s luckier. He brings his injured child with him. Our cameraman asks him what’s happened.

HASSAN ABDI, Father (through translator): He was hit by the mortar last night. Four other members of my family were hit, as well. This is our normal life here now.

NIMA ELBAGIR: Understandable then that the city center has emptied, an exodus to brave the scrubland on the outskirts rather then the gamble of daily life in the capital.

In the absence of aid agencies, they rely on what water they can buy or beg. Since February, nearly half a million people have fled Mogadishu. Aid agencies have issued a famine warning, estimating that over 80,000 children in central and southern Somalia suffer from malnutrition, nearly 14,000 of whom are at risk of death, and that’s in areas where the fighting isn’t as bad.

For the children of Mogadishu, there are no figures, just a forecast of slow starvation. This mother asked that we don’t identify her or her children by name, but she does want the world to know their condition. It’s visibly distressing.

These pictures shot just a few miles outside Mogadishu, omens of what may come if they’re not reached in time. In 1992, images like this from Somalia triggered a massive international relief effort spearheaded by American troops. But even if the world wanted to reach them this time around, it’s hard to imagine how they could, or if they even know how bad things are getting. Footage like this rarely makes its way onto our screens.

The journalists of Somalia have themselves become a target. The funeral of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, shot outside his office at Horn Afrik television station. As mourners leave the graveyard, a bomb explodes under a car, killing his friend, the station’s co-founder, Ali Sha’armarke. Both killings are thought to have been targeted assassinations.

Our cameraman was traveling behind the bomb. He accompanied one of the surviving journalists from the car to the hospital. He also asked not to be named. It’s easy to understand why people here live in such fear. Later that day, for the second time, a funeral procession takes a journalist for burial.

The lawlessness is understandable. The government and Ethiopian troops have little public support. The Ethiopians rarely patrol, and when they do, they lose not only their life, but their boots and anything else the insurgents can make use of.

That leaves the African Union forces as the most visible presence. They denied permission to our Somali cameramen to embed with them. With only 1,600 troops, it’s understandable they’re a little nervous.

This is Bakaara Market. This program learnt that Ethiopian and Somali government troops accused traders of funding the insurgency, forcing them to dismantle their stalls. With little aid coming in, even those who could afford to buy food found it difficult.

On our cameraman’s final day of filming, the market was shelled. Mogadishu’s bustling heart, it burnt for hours. Our cameraman said Mogadishu now looks like the pictures he sees from Baghdad. It’s just the world never gets to see Mogadishu.