Somalia

Somalia: Government criticised over NGO raid

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NAIROBI, 20 June 2007 (IRIN) - The Somali government has been criticised after raiding an NGO compound in the capital, Mogadishu, with civil society groups saying such actions would hamper the work of humanitarian organisations.

"The raid was political and a warning to other civil society organisations to toe the government line," said Tony Burns, director of operations for SAACID-Australia, a sister organisation of SAACID-Somalia, the NGO that was raided on 18 June. "Raising human rights and humanitarian issues has not gone down well with the TFG [Transitional Federal Government]."

A government spokesman, Abdi Haji Gobdon, however, told IRIN the raid was part of intensified efforts to collect illegal weapons in Mogadishu. "There is nothing political about this. It was purely a security operation," he said.

According to the spokesman, more than 500 AK-47s were found in the compound. "The security forces will go to any place, including mosques, if there are illegal weapons," he added. "The government crackdown will continue until the city is safe and secure."

Four staff of SAACID, who were arrested on 18 June and were being held for questioning, would be released if found innocent, he explained. They included the director, Raaho Mahamud Janaqow.

Burns later said all staff were released at 2:30pm today. "I have spoken to Raaho and she told me they are unharmed," said Burns.

Only three guns were found in the compound, said Burns, and they were used for the security of the compound. Most businesses and aid agencies have in the past employed armed guards to secure their work places.

"It is a sad day when the compound of a humanitarian organisation is raided like that. We call on the government to release without conditions the staff and allow SAACID to resume its work," said Abdinasir Ahmed Osman, the chairman of the Peace and Human Rights Network, known by its Somali acronym, INXA.

SAACID, he added, was one of the most effective NGOs operating in south and central Somalia, engaged in demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of former militia into the community. The group is also involved in health and sanitation work, specifically helping to clean up Mogadishu.

Aid workers estimate that about 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February to seek shelter in other regions of the country, but more than 90,000 have returned to the city and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

ah/mw

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