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THE SHOCKING ACCOUNT OF HOW CANADIAN SOLDIERS TORTURED AND KILLED SOMALI TEENAGERS

A COMMENTARY BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)
2 May. 2002

Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

Last week in Saskatoon (Canada) it was reported by the Canadian Press that failure to find a key witness forced the adjournment of the hearing for a Canadian soldier still facing charges in the death of Abukar Shidane Arone, a Somali teenager nine years ago. The charge is against Clayton Matchee, a member of the disbanded and disgraced Royal Canadian Airborne Regiment.

 


Kyle Brown
The prosecutor said he has been unable to find Kyle Brown, another soldier involved in the 1993 beating of Abukar Shinade Arone in Belet-weyne which left a black mark on Canada's much bandied peace keeping forces in war-torn countries. Brown was sentenced to five years after he was convicted of manslaughter in the death and torture of the Somali youth and the shooting two others in the back as they tried to flee.

 

The event in Belet-weyne was certainly the worst Canadian military scandal in the post-war. It was most devastating development in the 45-year history of Canadian peace keeping tradition.

HOW COULD THIS TRAGEDY HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO HAPPEN?

An eight-man patrol found Abukar hiding in a portable toilet. Detained as a suspected thief and after binding his arms behind his back with plastic handcuffs the soldiers began to beat "the shit out of him", according to one of the key witnesses, quoting Commando platoon leader, Captain Michael Sox as saying. The Captain later denied making that statement. Abukar's cries of agony pierced the stillness of the night. At least several Canadian soldiers heard or witnessed firsthand the assaults against the Somali youth. Yet no one lifted a finger to stop the unfolding tragedy. Abukar claimed through an interpreter that he was looking for a lost child. But the beating of the malnourished youth continued unabated. A martial court found only Pte. Elvin Kyle Brown guilty of manslaughter and torture in Abukar Shidane Arone's death. The names of three other soldiers have been omitted because of a "partial" publication ban imposed by the judge advocate. Colonel Carol Mathieu, Commander of the Regiment, who faced charges of negligent performances of his duties, later resigned and is probably growing roses in his hometown - a luxury he could live with in Edmonton.

What followed were recriminations, cover-ups and basing the buck to others. Canadians and Somalis may never know the full story of what happened in Belet-weyne nine years ago; they will almost certainly never understand why some members of Canada's military elite force behaved so abominably.

In Belet-weyne there was, however, a lively discussion among the city elders about the amount of taxpayer's money ($25 million) spent on the marathon hearings in Ottawa, which, paradoxically, is still inconclusive, despite the fact that they were well aware of those bad apples who committed the heinous crimes. "Would it not be better if that money was given to the parents of the youngsters and initiate a justice clean-up in the Canadian Defense Department?" said one of the prominent elders in the region. He questioned the wisdom of disbanding a whole regiment because of a few "bad apples." The consensus was that it was a straightforward torture and murder cases and that the culprits should have been brought to justice and compensate the relatives of the victims, according to Somali Xeer instead of vacillating and flip-flopping. Period.

The majority of the men and officers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment played an important role in rebuilding schools, hospitals, roads, purified the water, repaired the city's main bridge (Liiq-liiqato) and had cultivated a good working relations with the city elders. They even rejuvenated the defunct police force and put them back on the streets of the town, the town's residents told a group of visiting journalists, including this writer.

"The death and torture of Somali teenagers in Belet-weyne overshadowed these noble deeds and violated Canada's strongest image of itself," wrote Andrew Phillips in the Maclean's weekly magazine.

ITALIAN AND BELGIAN SOLDIERS

Taking advantage of the prevailing anarchy and lawlessness, Somalia became an open season for people with guns to murder innocent people in cold blood. Admittedly, homegrown Mooryaan carried out a large-scale slaughter, but people who were supposed to keep peace (The Blue Helmets) joined into the fracas; Canadians, Pakistanis, Italians, Belgians, and the Foreign Legionnaires (based in Djibouti) used their high velocity bullets against defenseless, non-combatant civilians. Then the Somalis were left to fend for themselves against armed predators. Those predators are still very much alive and kicking to this day. The international media aptly dubs Somalia as "The bandit-ridden country." Renewed inter-clan fighting brought an orgy of ethnic killings, gangland style. The late General Aideed and Ali Mahdi vowed to eliminate each other, Mafia-godfather-style. And Somalia was completely written off by the international community.

A group of Somalis told an Italian Inquiry Commission that they were either witnesses or victims of abuse by Italian soldiers on a UN mission in Somalia during the ill-fated "Operation Restore Hope." The five-person Commission said they would present their findings to the Italian government and the judiciary that appointed them. But nothing has been heard from the Italian Government. Like every commission of inquiry report in the past, I presume this one too have been gathering dusty on a shelf in the Italian bureaucratic bottleneck in Rome.

The accusation of abuse came to light when a former soldier accused fellow soldiers of killing, torturing and raping civilians in Somalia. The allegation caused deep shock and indignation in Italy. In a front-page banner, "CORRIERA DELLA SERA" described the scandal as SHAME ON ITALY. Two Generals who commanded the Italian contingent in Somalia resigned.

In Belgium a military court acquitted two Belgian paratroopers, saying there was insufficient evidence that they maltreated a child in the southern port town of Kismayo by swinging him over fire, despite the fact that the photograph of the barbeque was splashed on the front pages of Belgian and international newspapers.

Reuters news agency reported from Brussels that one of the Belgian soldiers Sgt. Dirk Nassel received only a three month suspended sentence for having offered a friend an under-aged Somali girl for his birthday and for tying a second child to a moving vehicle.

Belgium's military court acquitted him on a third charge of force-feeding a boy pork with salt water and making eat his vomit. A second soldier, Dirk van Landeghem was cleared of charges of sexual misconduct with under-age Somali girls.

A total of 15 members of the battalion were investigated in 1995 for acts of violence and racism against the Somali civilians during the U.N. mission "Operation Restore Hope."

During my frontline reporting in one of the most dangerous places on earth, the terror of being surrounded by trigger happy Foreign Legionnaires, Belgian and Italian contingents of UNITAF, screaming racist slurs and obscenities at the starving population and shooting over the heads of journalists covering the "Big Profile" threw me into darker depression. Luckily many of us survived to tell the tales! But my colleagues, Hoss Maina, Anthony Macharia, Dan Eldon of Reuters news agency and Hansi Krauss of the American news agency Associated Press (AP) were not lucky enough to survive the carnage.

Surprisingly, the American Marines were the most disciplined force in Somalia until they were provoked by forces loyal to the late General, who initially welcomed them with pomp and circumstances, but changed his mind when the UN and American bigwigs in Mogadishu refused to recognize him as the "legitimate president" of Somalia. In their obsession with Western-style democracy of one-man-one-vote they questioned the legitimacy of his claim to the office of the presidency of a country that was in tatters. The rest is history.

By M. M. Afrah 2002
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

RECOMMENDED READING
Are you tired of reading distorted stories about Somalia by armchair authors? Order the "SOMALI TRAGEDY," by M. M. Afrah 204 pages with photos and glossary of Somali history.
It is an eyewitness account of the clan warfare and the US/UN military involvement in the Somalia debacle. $US20/ including H&S by airmail.
Mode of payment: International Money Order or through Somali money transfer companies near you. Order the book directly from the Author by sending your email to afrah95@hotmail.com

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Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!
info@banadir.com

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