UN under pressure to explain murder of 9 cleaners by Al-Shabaab in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - A Somali senator wants the United Nations to explain mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder of nine workers who were reportedly ambushed by Al-Shabaab militants, despite reports that the victims had expressed safety concerns before being deployed to offer services in an UN-funded project.
Investigate Dossier, a program aired by VOA Somali Service established that nine people were killed along Mogadishu-Afgoye road where they were clearing bushes with several others sustaining serious injuries. A total of 53 workers had been dispatched to the site in one of the projects aiming at improving Somalia's economic fortunes.
And Senator Abshir Ahmed, who also doubles as Somalia's Senate Deputy Speaker, now wants the United Nations to explain and address the murder, arguing that preliminary reports showcase "negligence" of the highest degree from United Nations Mission Assistance in Somalia [UNMAS].
Despite prior intelligence on impending attacks by Al-Shabaab, he added, UNMAS ignored the reports on death threats and subjected innocent civilians to "extreme" danger. The February 25, 2019 incident, he said, was troubling and needs urgent and full address from the UN.
"Though the government accused Al-Shabaab of Feb 25, 2019, this report also points out that the United Nations and respective contractors ignored the death threats and made gross negligence. This is indeed troubling. I urge the UN to explain and fully address this matter," he said.
Senator Abshir becomes the second high ranking Somali official to demand justice for the survivors, after Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, a federal government of Somalia MP, who accused the UN actors of "sheer" negligence should he termed as "absolutely ridiculous".
Details by Investigative Dossier show that the project was funded by UNMAS but was being implemented by the Ukroboronservice [UoS], which is a Ukraine-based company. Prior to the attack, the contractor and UNMAS had been informed about the Al-Shabaab threats.
And Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, who is a former security advisor, also asked the Somali government to summon UNMAS and UoS and raise complaints with them, arguing that the incident is one of many which expose workers to threats.
“This was a risk they took, they needed the job, but this need was taken advantage of,” Mohamed said.
“The work to cut the trees and clear the road was part of the fight against Al-Shabab, the government should have taken more responsibility. They should have taken more responsibility in protecting those poor members of the community.”
According to him, the Somali government should blacklist Ukroboronservice and stop them from operating in Somalia, given its "bad attitude" towards helping people sourced by them, just like the tragedy which befell the nine workers.
It's is not clear if Senator Abshir will raise the matter on the floor of Senate for deliberations since the law allows the house to discuss such incidents and make particular recommendations for action. Survivors accuse the UN body of abandoning them despite the fact that they were executing a project fully funded by the United Nations.
But according to the UN body which has been funding a host of projects in Somalia, both the victims and the guards were on the break at the time of the attack. Local authorities, UNMAS added, took the lead in the project including provision for security.
“This project was implemented by a third-party contractor in consultation with the local authority in Lower Shabelle,” UNMAS spokesman Lee Woodyear told the Investigative Dossier, adding that the project was community-based and was meant to stabilize the region.
“The daily laborers were on daily wage and there was no contractual agreement between the contractor nor with UNMAS,” Woodyear said. “The UN sympathizes with the victims and survivors of the attacks.”
However, survivors still blame the facilitators of the project, accusing them of failing to prioritize safety measures for workers. Some of them insist that the project was "badly designed" for implementation leading to an unprecedented tragedy.
A community liaison officer, one of the survivors said, had informed the contractor about the impending attack on October 13, 2018, but nothing was done to shield the low-income workers from the onslaught. The report was made four months before the attack.
The UN remains one of the major financial partners of Somalia and besides funding several development projects, it's also involved in the peacekeeping missions. The Al-Shabaab militants have often targeted security forces, senior government officials, and civilians who are believed to be "collaborators".