The highest-ranking U.N. official for Somalia has angrily denounced reports of a civilian massacre by African Union peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu, saying the story is designed to distract attention from positive developments in the country. U.N. Special Representative Ahmedou Ould Abdallh is calling for a moratorium on reports written outside Somalia based on information supplied by local Somali journalists.
U.N. Special Representative Ahmedou Ould Abdallh says he does not know the exact details of Monday's incident in Mogadishu. He is in Addis Ababa, where he is accompanying Somalia's new president Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed on his triumphal debut at the African Union summit.
But in a VOA interview, he suggested the report of a massacre by AU peacekeepers was contrived. He called it part of a media war to discredit peace efforts in Somalia, and compared it to the radio station Mille Collines, which incited the Rwandan genocide a generation ago.
"What happened is to divert attention from what is going on here, and as usual to use the media to repeat Radio Mille Colline, to repeat the genocide in Rwanda," said Abdallh. "We had a good election. The president had a good welcome. He is trying to work closely with the region."
AU officials in Addis Ababa declined to comment on news reports that AU AMISOM peacekeepers had fired on civilians in Mogadishu, killing many. They asked for more time to investigate.
But AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping issued a statement strongly suggesting the reports were false. The statement made no mention of shooting, but condemned in the strongest terms what was called an explosion that claimed the lives of several persons', describing it as a 'barbaric and cowardly act by extremist elements opposed to peace and reconciliation'.
U.N. envoy Ould Abdallah noted that few international news agencies actually have reporters in Somalia, but base their stories on information supplied by Somali journalists there. He charged most of the journalists have been compromised through threats and intimidation, and called for a moratorium on second-hand reporting about events in Somalia.
"There is a need to have a truce, one month truce in reporting on Somalia," he said. "There is a need to double check the sources with your correspondent. Because they live under tremendous pressure. I am sure they are professionals. They would like to help their country. But the time has come for one month truce on reporting till there is double, triple checking, because Somalia is exceptional. We have to have exceptional checking of the news."
Meanwhile, Somali President Sheikh Sharif continued his summit activities with a speech to fellow heads of state. Speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, he pledged to counter the lawlessness and piracy that has characterized Somalia's position as a failed state.
"We would like to assure our full cooperation with the international community to do away with piracy, which has really damaged the Somalis more than anyone else," he said. "Yet we believe the solution is on the territory and not on the sea. And the Somali forces will carry out this job."
Mr. Sharif has also held bilateral meetings with several other African heads of state, and met with regional and international leaders to discuss a concerted effort to rebuild Somalia, which has been without an effective government since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.