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Reporters Without Borders Says Somalia Prevents Free Flow of Information

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says that threats, assassinations and attacks on journalists and sources in Somalia are severely eroding the credibility of news reports from the Horn of African country. The organization says the lack of verifiable information about what is happening in Somalia is likely to keep the international community confused and uncertain about how to deal with the country and its mounting problems. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The head of the Africa desk for Reporters Without Borders, Leonard Vincent, says journalists in Somalia are enduring the same level of repression, harassment, and threats as their counterparts in Iraq, but are receiving only a fraction of the international attention.

According to Vincent and the National Union of Somali Journalists, in the past six months, at least 23 Somali journalists have received death threats. Many others have been pressured to keep silent or to report only propaganda about the on-going war between Somalia's Ethiopia-backed transitional government and Islamist insurgents, led by a militant al-Qaida-linked group called the Shabab.

"I know that some journalists have been receiving phone calls from al-Shabab, saying that they are on the hit-list," he said. "They are also under pressure from the media owners, who are defending their own interests, and also from Ethiopian and Somali troops, who consider that reporting disturbing information about their acts is something they can repress with impunity."

Vincent says such pressures are influencing the accuracy of news reports in Somalia, making it difficult to know who is telling the truth.

"What we know is that the pressure is so heavy that the behavior of the Somali journalists can be questioned," he said. "There are very violent situations going on all over Somalia, but the exact circumstances, how many dead, how many wounded, what exactly happened, who started to fire, is something we really cannot assess. It is very frustrating because we do not know what is true, what is exaggerated."

At least eight journalists have been murdered since Somalia's U.N.-recognized transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, took power from Islamists in late 2006. Several dozen others have fled to safety in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

The fighting in Somalia has produced a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations says is now worse than the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

But with Somali journalists unable to report fully and accurately about the situation, Vincent says he fears the international community could give up on Somalia and turn its attention to other global matters.

"The fact that we do not have information that is certain and that we do not know who started what and who is killing whom affects the analysis," added Vincent. "In a vague and confusing situation, it is difficult to assess the situation so that mediation and balance can be made. Obviously, this contributes to nourishing the war, continuing the war."

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused all sides in the Somali conflict of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.