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Somalia Forces Detain WFP Official

By Nick Wadhams
17 October 2007

The World Food Program (WFP) says Somali security forces have stormed the U.N. compound in the capital Mogadishu and arrested the WFP local director. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, the World Food Program has now suspended food distribution in Mogadishu and is looking for answers.

Reports from Mogadishu indicate that the raid was conducted during heavy fighting in the Somali capital between police and Islamic insurgents. At least eight civilians and a policeman were reported killed in the fighting.

The World Food Program says dozens of armed men in uniforms raided the group's compound and took the local director, Idris Osman, to the National Security Forces headquarters. No shots were fired. WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon says the raid and the arrest were a complete surprise.

"He was arrested by the Somali National Security Service after 50-60 heavily armed and uniformed members stormed the U.N. compound in Mogadishu, and he was taken to NSF headquarters near the presidential palace," he said. "In light of Mr. Osman's detention and in view of our duty to safeguard our own staff, we were forced to immediately suspend food distribution within Mogadishu and the loading of WFP food from our warehouses within Mogadishu."

The World Food Program began distributing food in Mogadishu a few days ago, after suspending operations in June. It had worked out a plan to reach 75,000 people by supplying food through more than 40 mosques in the capital.

Smerdon refused to say if he believes the deal with the mosques had anything to do with the arrest.

Senior Somali officials have denied any involvement in the raid and have claimed that Osman's arrest was the result of insecurity in Mogadishu. They have suggested that Islamic militants are to blame.
Somalia has been in chaos since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in a 1991 coup. The situation stabilized briefly after a loose coalition of Islamic groups, the Islamic Courts Union, seized control of large parts of the country last year.

But Somalia has seen renewed fighting since Ethiopian forces entered the country late last year, routing the Islamic Courts Union and bolstering the transitional Somali federal government.

Islamic fighters remain and continue to attack Ethiopian troops and forces of the interim government.

A senior presidential adviser, Abdirazak Adam Hassan, has said that Osman was already freed.

"I understand that he has been released and he is a free man," he said. "You know, our situation is very much volatile, and insecurity is rampant everywhere, but in any case happy news is that he is free and this kind of kidnapping has been occurring in Somalia for the last 17 years, because of the lawlessness and general insecurity that has been prevailing."

But WFP spokesman Smerdon says he has received no word on Osman's release. He says Osman's detention was not a kidnapping, and argues that the incident violates international law.

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