Any particular memory that stays with you?|
Yeah, there was a woman in one of the huts, that had been dead for
about two days and her two children sat there just weeping and nobody to look
after them, and there were a few things like that -- that for some reason, more
than anything, has stayed in my memory.
What happened to those children?
The honest answer is, I don't know, because there were thousands
more like it...
How did you feel about the fact that the UN and the US people
were now intervening?
I think it certainly turned the tide in that crisis. We were
trying to saturate the country with food aid as much as possible, knowing that
a lot of it would be looted, but also being aware that if we put in enough
food, that eventually the food would saturate and get through to the people.
Which it did, but logistically it was very expensive way of doing it. So when
the UN came in we were then given a better security situation and so the food
was taken more or less directly to the people.
What about getting food to the people out in the country?
Describe that state of affairs.
The situation was incredibly difficult. Sometimes when people asked
me about it I've often compared it to a Mad Max film. You've got people driving
around in technical cars with machine guns. There's no government
infrastructure, no law and order and we were trying to help the vulnerable
people who nobody else seemed to care for, and these people were trying to loot
food because they could use the food to buy weapons, and also some of the
faction leaders could use the food to pay their fighters and so food literally
Almost everyday food convoys were being looted, attacked. Our warehouse was
attacked at one point almost every night, or it would be when the airplanes,
Hercules, were coming in, we knew more or less that after a delivery the
warehouse would be looted.
Any other scenes you can describe of food convoys being attacked
Yeah, there were many. I lost a colleague who was on his first
mission with the Red Cross and he was 28 years old and they'd come to steal
money and food, and they got nervous, they thought he -- someone was going to go
and tell the Americans, and they pulled a trigger and blew his head off. To me
it was a completely unacceptable death.
What do the non-governmental organizations do? I mean you are
unarmed. You're trying to get food to the country -- did you have to get some
kind of protection?
Usually the Red Cross never ever deals with people with guns. We
never carry guns in our vehicles. But in Somalia we had to employ guards and
escorts to see us through the dangerous areas and to cross frontlines. I think
Somalia was the first for many things, not just for UN armed
intervention -- peace keepers they call them -- but obviously for the Red Cross.
Times are changing and the Red Cross isn't protected as it used to be.
What was your first impression of the American troops when you
saw them on the ground?
My first impression was the land mine explosion before they'd
officially arrived. There were some Americans I think doing this survey in
advance and they drove over a land mine and one was killed and three were badly
injured. The medical corps for the marines flew in the helicopters from
Mogadishu, and we'd done first aid and splinted them and given them pain
killers, and I remember the Marines arrived on the helicopters and my first
impression was that these people had never seen anything like it before. They
were green, literally some were vomiting, and they didn't have adequate medical
equipment. They were completely lost, and I sort of had to take control of them
because I thought they were going to set some more mines off, and it just
seemed to me that they were very badly prepared.
Later on, you were struck by the kind of aggression that you
encountered from American forces...
Our compound was a kilometer or so away from the feeding centers
and the displaced camp and we used to travel backwards and forwards two or
three times a day and once the UN forces had arrived they'd set up road blocks.
And I remember the first day being very upset with their attitude. They stopped
us, pointed their guns at us, and I remember one of them shouting to me, 'Hey,
mother fucker, get your arse over here' -- very aggressive, rude, and I was just
amazed, I thought well surely they can tell the difference between a European
Red Cross worker and a local Somali militia, but obviously it wasn't so.
These are U.S. troops?
Can you describe your first impression of the American forces at
this road block?
My first impression of the American forces at the road block were
of this typical Cowboy and Indian American -- where they're very macho and
verbally very aggressive. They pointed their guns at us. They used obscene
language, told us to get over there, they'd search us, search the vehicle, and
they seemed quite incapable of understanding that we were international aid
workers. We were not indigenous Somalis. I mean, we didn't have any guns, we
didn't have weapons, and there's no way we could have been perceived as a
threat. I found them to be very aggressive and it was fairly obvious to me and
my colleagues that they hadn't been briefed and they certainly had no cultural
The other UN contingents -- what was their conduct like towards
the local people?
I only had first-hand experience with the Belgian forces, when I
later moved to a different part of Somalia. On the whole I found the Belgian
forces had built a good rapport with the local people. And I think they had
learnt a great deal and they wanted to try and help alleviate the suffering of
the people so they opened some schools ... But I think even there, some of
their senior officers were prone to make mistakes because I felt they didn't
really have a deep enough cultural understanding of the situation...
In general terms did you sense the atmosphere among the local
people turning against the UN troops?
I found it more so in this place where the Belgian forces were, as
time progressed. One, because they seemed to be getting more involved with the
politics, and for example, arresting the militia leader, this warlord. And they
resented this intervention. The local people perceived [it] to be an
intervention in their political activities and that it wasn't just a
Looking at the U.S. force -- half of the UN contingent -- do you
feel that the Americans allowed themselves to be sucked into the fighting, to
the extent where they became another contestant?
In a way, this is how they were perceived by the Somali people -- the
people in the areas I was working in. They felt that the UN was taking sides,
that for example, they were out to get Aidid, and I don't personally know if it
was on purpose but they attacked a hospital, and these things were
catastrophic. They were then perceived to be political, taking sides. It's not
the sort of thing the Red Cross would do. We never take sides, we try and help
on both sides of the conflict, and the perception then, amongst the Somali
people, was that the UN was trying to get rid of Aidid. They'd arrested this
local warlord in the area I was working in, and the humanitarian intervention
became a political activity to many people.
What actually happened at the hospital you referred to?
Well, I wasn't there, but they thought Aidid was hiding in a
hospital and some forces under the UN flag attacked this hospital and as far as
I know people were injured.
You talk about helicopters being intimidating and another
interviewee, another person we talked to, said that the helicopters became kind
of demonized... how did local people view the helicopters,
what did they think of those?
I can only speak for Bartdarin, Bartderins certainly felt very
intimidated by them, especially in the first few days when it was apparent, not
only to the local people, but to me, to that these people hadn't been very well
briefed, they didn't seem to understand the reality of the situation, who were
the good guys, who were the bad guys, the politics of the situation and the
cultural context of what was going on and they seemed very insensitive, that
did improve as time went on, but certainly the first few days were very bad and
I must admit I felt very hostile to some of the forces, their aggressive
When you say insensitive, what kind of insensitivity, for
It was the way they spoke to people that I objected to. The way
they spoke to me and my colleagues as well as the local people. They seemed
unable to differentiate between aggressive people in the technical cars with
machine guns and just ordinary people on the street, or indeed international
The Red Cross actually train people before they send them into
a situation, or a sensitivity training. Do you believe that UN troops, peace
keeping forces should have some similar training?
Yeah, when I came back from Somalia I saw advertising for the
British army, and instead of showing these high tech tanks and automated
warfare things they were showing starving people in Africa holding out empty
bowls and it said, 'join the army and save lives.' Well, until then I'd always
perceived the army to be formed of trained killers, all right, not
humanitarians. So, my feeling is that if things are changing in this way and
the armies are going to be the new humanitarians, then they must be
appropriately trained, as far as I'm concerned. These people are trained
killers, they are not trained humanitarians and in the Red Cross and most
NGOs -- people who go to work in these situations -- have rather extensive training
... I mean to be suddenly sent into a place like Somalia, without any sort of
cultural awareness or briefing or adequate training is asking for problems.
You've been to several other parts of the world in crisis. How
does Somalia stack up?
I've been to Afghanistan, two or three times. I've been to Sudan,
I've been to a lot of war zones and famine camps and cholera camps. But I've
never ever seen anything like Somalia was at that time. And it was certainly
the most frightening place for me, it was the most insecure, unpredictable. You
just didn't know what was going to happen next.