Aid group worried about 2 workers held in Somalia

AP News
Posted: Dec 31, 2011 6:43 AM
Aid group worried about 2 workers held in Somalia

The director of Belgium's chapter of Doctors Without Borders said Saturday he is increasingly concerned about two kidnapped workers being held in Somalia following the shooting deaths of two other workers by a disgruntled employee in Mogadishu.

Christopher Stokes said Doctors Without Borders is evaluating whether to maintain its operations in Somalia after the shooting deaths of a Belgian and Indonesian worker at the group's compound in Mogadishu on Thursday.

"At the moment our intent is to try to maintain operations, including with international staff, but we are reviewing our ability to do that given this latest attack and the kidnapping," Stokes told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"We have to understand how someone was able to enter with a gun into our hospital. That's one thing that's missing in our understanding. How did someone enter with a gun and open fire?" he said.

The employee who carried out Thursday's shooting was a logistics officer who had recently learned _ though had not been officially told by Doctors Without Borders _ that his contract would not be renewed, Stokes said. He said the employee had been stealing medical supplies and apparently was getting kickbacks from employment contracts.

The AP reported on Friday that an internal U.N. security report said the clan of the employee in question was making "significant profits" from the re-sale of stolen medicine, and that further violence was possible, sparking the need for security protection for the Indonesian victim of the attack, who died of his wounds several hours after the shooting.

But Stokes said that security report was not correct, and that Doctors Without Borders does not believe it faces further violence from this incident. Stokes said his group had the support of the community and other staff members in its decision not to renew the employee's contract. Stokes said the group will probably never be able to accurately tally the value of what the employee had stolen.

The deaths of Philippe Havet, 53, from Belgium; and Andrias Karel Keiluhu, 44, from Indonesia, on Thursday underscore the risks that volunteers for the group encounter in Somalia. Havet was country director for MSF, as the group is known by its initials in French. Keiluhu was a doctor.

In October, gunmen entered the world's largest refugee camp _ Dadaab, in Kenya but near the Somali border _ and snatched two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders.

Stokes said the two are believed to be in Somalia, but that "there's been no significant progress" in their case. Stokes called on Somali authorities to help win the release of the two women.

Even though the kidnapping and the gunfire attack were not related, Stokes said the two events together has "increased the concern and the pressure on our organization" and the decisions that need to be made about its Somalia operations. Stokes said he has no reason to believe that Thursday's shooting has increased the danger that the two kidnapped Spanish women face.

Doctors Without Borders carries out nutrition, vaccination and cholera programs in Mogadishu, which has pockets of thousands of internally displaced people who moved to the capital and live in squalid camps in an attempt to flee famine. Residents also are frequently caught up in fighting between government troops and militants from al-Shabab.

"Somalia is probably one of the hardest environments for aid to be delivered effectively, and at the same time the level of need is the highest," Stokes said. "In Mogadishu you have incredible rates of malnutrition. We have cholera cases and direct victims of the fighting. This is the dilemma really. It's one of the hardest environments to work in and in addition the needs are the greatest."