any pretence of neutrality
CARE Australia's compound in Somalia consisted
of three whitewashed buildings on a red dirt road on the
outskirts of Baidoa. In December 1992, hundreds of
sandbags barricaded the wooden gates to ward off the
rebel attackers who had been arriving with guns late at
night to try and steal the aid agency's wheat stores.
Inside, besieged CARE Australia staff awaited
the arrival of the relieving Operation Restore Hope
forces. Tension had been growing in Baidoa since the
United Nations had secured Mogadishu, and vital aid work
to help outlying villages deprived of food and water had
temporarily been halted.
The only link to the outside world for the
CARE Australia leader, Mr. Lockton Morrisey, and his
remaining staff - as well as this journalist, a paying
guest - was a satellite phone and small dish that sat on
the ground under a palm tree. On the other side of the
compound's walls, bullet shots could be heard.
In the early hours of December 15, four US
State Department officers arrived. Supposedly meant to be
inconspicuous, these agents with their white shirts,
black paratrooper pants and cases of communications
equipment succeeded only in looking ludicrous in the
dusty, hot war town.
Two hours later, Mr. Morrisey told us that two
of the agents, with their hand-held military GPS boxes,
would be coming with us on the CARE Australia van that we
had already arranged would be taking us on a tour of the
still-dangerous streets of Baidoa.
As we drove off, the van detoured to some of
Baidoa's outer streets and intersections - meeting the
main road from Mogadishu down which the UN convoy would
arrive the next day. For the next two hours the US men
furiously keyed map co-ordinates into their handsets
aboard the CARE Australia vehicle, designing a route by
which the troops could arrive in Baidoa and quietly
encircle the city, while avoiding its troublespots and
All that day, brightly colored paper notes
blew down Baidoa's laneways, past its few remaining
barricaded homes and across its overgrown soccer pitch.
They were UN propaganda leaflets - apparently dropped by
the same US planes that had delivered our State
Department emissaries - picturing a smiling US soldier
backed by a rifle, helicopter and armored car shaking
hands with a happy Somali villager in his sarong.
It was meant to read, "We are
international soldiers from the United Nations and we
come in peace to help you", but the Somali language
had been mangled, causing much hilarity in the Baidoa
marketplace when it called the US-led forces
"Soldiers of the united slaves".
That night, after waking about 2am and hearing
noises, I climbed the concrete stairs of an outer
building in the CARE compound. On the flat white rooftop
I found about six black-garbed figures moving around in
the shadows under a clear starry desert night.
Lime-green snap fluorescent sticks were laid
out across the flat roof. There was much whispered
talking into walkie-talkies, while large transmitters and
communication boxes buzzed and crackled.
The officers were talking with the UN forces,
in their combat helicopters, tanks, armored cars and
marching men, who were on the outskirts of Baidoa ready
to enter the town before dawn.
There was no pretence that this was the roof
of an independent and supposedly neutral aid agency. This
was a precision military operation being carried out from
within the safety of CARE Australia's Baidoa compound.
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