MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Up to 60 Somali intelligence officers stormed a U.N. compound in Mogadishu on Wednesday and seized the World Food Program’s local chief of operations at gunpoint, prompting WFP to stop aid distribution.
Riding in two “technicals” — pickup trucks mounted with heavy guns — armed security officers forced their way into U.N. offices before taking the Somali head of WFP operations to a cell at intelligence headquarters.
A police spokesman confirmed Idris Osman’s detention but declined to say why he had been taken. Another government officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the order to arrest him came from the head of the national security service.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the arrest as a flagrant violation of U.N. immunity and called for Osman’s immediate and unconditional release.
“The Secretary-General reminds the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia of its obligation to protect all United Nations staff members and property,” a statement said. WFP said it had received no explanation why Osman had been taken away.
In a statement the food agency said Somalia’s national security services had violated international law by storming the compound, close to Mogadishu’s airport.
“In the light of Mr. Osman’s detention and in view of WFP’s duty to safeguard its staff, WFP is forced immediately to suspend these distributions,” it said.
That halts the agency’s first distribution of food since June in Mogadishu, which aimed to help 75,000 people.
A relative of Osman, who demanded anonymity for fear of reprisal, said a quarrel with government officers sparked his arrest.
“Some government officers wanted to supply and monitor his work themselves. He objected to that and, as a result, the national security arrested him on the pretext of linking him to terrorists,” the relative said.
Violence has forced many aid agencies to quit the Horn of Africa country, leaving U.N. agencies and a few others to run limited operations staffed by locals.
In the latest violence in Mogadishu, where Islamist insurgents are fighting joint Ethiopian-Somali forces, five people were killed in a protracted gun battle with rebels at a police station late on Tuesday.
Two others, including a district official, died of injuries from a roadside bomb detonated early on Wednesday.
Many Somalis condemn the government — the nation’s 14th attempt at central rule since 1991 — for failing to end insecurity, improve health and education, and bring peace.
Rampant piracy, closed borders and the authorities’ previous failure to clear food shipments have hobbled efforts to provide aid to thousands of refugees from the conflict.
In April, the interim government promised it would clear obstacles to delivering aid after the U.N.’s humanitarian chief complained about red tape and restrictions.
Those include numerous checkpoints where aid workers complained of theft or obstruction, a longstanding practice of Somali gunmen in the 16 years of anarchy since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
Additional reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Bryson Hull in Nairobi and Abdiqani Hassan in Bosasso