By Samira Sawlani
Monday, June 17, 2013
For decades Somalia has undergone turmoil and instability due to conflict, civil war, and humanitarian disasters.
Gen. Mohamed F. Aidid - Photo AFP
There are many dates, occasions and anniversaries that the current and future generations of Somalia will mark as moments which altered history or which need to be remembered as a way to honour numerous lives that were lost.
17th June is one such day; it is this twenty years since the United Nations ordered the arrest of General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, an event which determined the fate of many innocent and guilty individuals.
It was after this date that the conflict between General Aidid’s militia and the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) escalated, resulting in unexpected levels of death and disorder.
In 1991 Siad Barre's government was overthrown, the Somali National Army disbanded and the country headed to civil war. A number of opposition groups became divided and began to clash in their struggle for power. Two of the most dominant groups being armed factions led by General Mohamed Farrah Hassan Aidid and Ali Mahdi Mohamed.
Scenes of chaos in Mogadishu and beyond led the United Nations (UN) to create UNOSOM 1, a mission aimed at stabilising Somalia. Reports of over 350,000 deaths due to the fighting and famine resulted in the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 794 which sanctioned the formation of a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia led by the United States of America. Then in 1993 arrived the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNOSOM II.
General Aidid along with other groups viewed the presence of the UN as a threat to their access to power. This further escalated the tense atmosphere in the country and led to clashes between the Aidid led forces and UN troops.
The American led UN peacekeeping mission found some success in Somalia after which UNOSOM II took over duties. However, an unexpected attack on Pakistani UN forces on the 5th of June 1993, allegedly by Aidid’s army led to an unexpected and bloody sequence of events.
The UN notified Aidid that they wanted to take an inventory of where his weapons were stored, something which had been discussed before. UN forces were sent into the premises to inspect the arms, unaware that there was an opposition to this move which left 24 peacekeepers dead and over 50 wounded. In an interview with PBS, Admiral Jonathon Howe, the UN Special envoy to Somalia during that time, described what happened that day. “Inspections were conducted, and then a major ambush of Pakistanis that were coming out of this place called the cigarette factory. [It was] a very carefully orchestrated military attack on this Pakistani force. It was very clear to us that it was Aidid. I was very careful not to say it was Aidid until we had more evidence, at least publicly. It was in his interests to attack the UN forces.”
12 days after this attack, on June 17th 1993 UNOSOM issued a warrant for Aidid’s arrest (A month later a $25,000 dollar bounty was put on his head by the UN) He was accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ and a UN statement described him as ‘One of the warlords largely responsible for the death of 350,000 Somalis’
Admiral Howe was quoted as saying “on the 17th of June, I announced that Aidid was somebody that we felt should be detained for public safety. We also wanted the message in the political process that said we're not against his faction, we're not against his clan, and it’s just the individuals responsible.”
Admiral Jonathan T. Howe (second from right), Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, visiting a UN-supported feeding centre run by CONCERN, a non-governmental organization. With him are Colonel Evren (far right) of Turkey, Military Liaison Officer with UNOSOM, and two Baidoa residents. [April 1993]
It was this arrest warrant on that fateful day of June 17th which heightened tensions and intensified combat between UN forces and Aidid’s troops. That same day, attempts to capture Aidid resulted in a huge number of civilian casualties and bloodshed turning Mogadishu into a battlefield.
On the 18th of June 1993 the Associated Press reported that the day before “U.N. troops backed by U.S. air power seized Aidid's headquarters yesterday, but the general's militia fought back in six hours of street battles that caused heavy U.N. and Somali casualties.”
Missiles, grenades and shells hit a range of buildings destroying parts of Mogadishu in the process. The aim of the UN to disarm warlords and arrest Aidid was priority and despite the damage done that day Admiral Howe refused to rule out additional military strikes.
Prior to this on the 13th of June 1993, at least 20 Somalis were killed on Sunday and dozens wounded when Pakistani peacekeepers clashed with a number of protestors. However, the determination of the UN to capture, arrest and try General Aidid meant that more bloodshed and death was to be expected once that arrest warrant had been released.
The UN were not the only guilty party that could be held responsible for the deaths of innocent people on the 17th of June and beyond, the Security Council released a statement stating that some Somali factions and movements [were] using women and children as human shields to perpetrate their attacks against UNOSOM", and deplored the civilian deaths that had resulted "despite the timely measures adopted to prevent this from happening".
Towards the end of 1993 President Clinton's special envoy to Somalia and a Marine Corps general who directed United States military operations in Somalia, suggested there were 6,000 to 10,000 Somali casualties between June and October 1993. In an interview Major -General Anthony C. Zinni was not able to provide exact figures on what percentage of people died as a result of fighting between rival faction groups within Somalia and how many were casualties of clashes with UN troops. Regardless of this, the figures did illustrate the sheer volume of lives lost following on from that June where the ambush on Pakistani peacekeepers occurred and subsequently led to an intensified pursuit of General Aidid.
Since the 17th of June 1993 the death toll in Somalia as a result of the various challenges the country has gone through is immeasurable. The number of days to stop and commemorate events and honour those innocent people who lost their lives is perhaps an everyday affair, for everyday someone, somewhere in Somalia is likely to have suffered loss due to the conflict.
However, the events of 17th June 1993, the implication and history behind that arrest warrant, and the lives of civilians, peacekeepers and troops since that day deserve to be remembered and respected every year. The greatest way to honour their memory is to learn from the past and ensure that what has transpired during those years of civil war both prior to and after the 17th of June 1993 should never be repeated in Somalia.
It is interesting to think about how Somalia’s history would have been altered had the UN were successful in its bid to arrest Gen.Aidid.