AU fails to stop war, but saves lives in Somalia.

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Halkaan ka akhri

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Raising her palms in thanks, mother Sahra Abdi says an African Union force (AMISOM) in the Somali capital saved her daughter and mended her shattered knee.

“May God reward AMISOM for treating us free of charge,” Abdi said, her child clinging to her side after treatment at the AU’s tented hospital inside its main base in Mogadishu.

After 18 years of civil war, Somalia’s infrastructure has been devastated, doctors have fled, and the government is unable to provide basic services as it fights Islamist insurgents for control of the capital.

The 4,300-strong African Union peacekeepers in Somalia have often had a bad press: criticised for failing to stem the violence, accused by a U.N. body of selling arms to rebels, and accused by some residents of firing mortars into civilian areas.

But on one subject — the AU hospital — Mogadishu’s war-weary residents are enthusiastic.

Mohamed Aden, 25, said doctors there saved his life.

“My police mate destroyed my organs with my own gun,” Aden said, wrapped in bandages from his toes to his thighs.

“I did not know he joined the Islamists while I was away at a police course in Ethiopia. He snatched my gun and opened fire on me as we had a friendly conversation,” he said. The under-funded and under-equipped AU force arrived in March 2007, but only Uganda and Burundi have contributed troops so far, leaving the force well short of its 8,000 target.

On patrol, the AU soldiers face guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks by the rebels. A suicide bomb hit one of their bases.

BEHEADINGS

Inside the barbed-wire gate of the AU’s main Halane base behind Mogadishu’s airport, where the hospital is, Ugandan soldiers with machine-guns and bullet-proof vests frisk Somalis waiting to enter.

Armour-plated vehicles sit inside, waiting for the next patrol or to transport government officials from the airport.

Despite the heavy security at Halane, there are attempts to infiltrate the base.

“I was very shocked one day when our intelligence picked out four al Shabaab teenagers from the line in front of me,” said Ugandan doctor Donald Yiga, referring to a hardline rebel group.

“They pretended to be patients. (It was) good luck, they had no pistols or explosives. Maybe they were just spies. We treat every Somali and do not know who is who,” he said.

Somalia’s civil war has so far defied 15 attempts to restore central rule to the Horn of Africa nation, where warlords ousted a dictator then turned on each other. 

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed — a former rebel leader — is trying to entice his Islamist comrades into the government.

But the al Shabaab militia and the Hizbul Islam umbrella opposition group have rejected talks with the government while foreign troops remain on Somali soil. The rebels have continued to take territory in south Somalia and the capital.

At lunchtime, bare-chested masons climb down from the roof of a new hospital under construction. For Somalis working for the continental body, each day is a new battle.

“We have come here to get the family some money, but we might not survive tomorrow,” said Osman Ali, a toothless middle-aged mason.

“I am afraid al Shabaab will recognise our faces … Those guys behead anyone who works for AMISOM and the government.”

Source:    Reuters

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