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Non-Governmental Group Accuses Interim Somali Government of Harassment

A senior official of a Western non-governmental organization has accused Somalia's interim government leaders of deliberately harassing and intimidating humanitarian organizations that refuse to work under government control. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East African bureau in Nairobi, the allegations are some of the most serious charges of corruption against Somalia's Western-backed leadership since it took power in Mogadishu six months ago.

The director of operations for a non-governmental organization called SAACID-Australia, Tony Burns, tells VOA he is angry and dismayed by what he says is a blatant attempt by the leaders of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government to shut down his group's sister organization, SAACID-Somalia.

"We are the largest NGO in central southern Somalia, and we have received a lot of contracts from the U.N. over the previous years," said Burns. "And individuals within the TFG want these contracts for themselves. The TFG does not exist as a government. This is a series of individuals, trying to make as much money as they can."

Two weeks ago, Somali and Ethiopian troops raided the compound of SAACID-Somalia in Mogadishu, and conducted what the government called a security operation.

Several SAACID staff members, including the group's country director, were arrested and charged with membership in the al-Qaida terror network. The soldiers smashed doors and windows, destroyed office equipment, and confiscated several guns the staff says are needed to provide security for the compound.

The government freed the Somali staff members three days later, after Mogadishu civil society members, international NGOs, Western governments, and U.N. agencies called for their unconditional release.

Burns says he believes the raid was carried out partly in retaliation for his group's refusal to give government leaders control of the funds SAACID-Somalia had received to carry out various civic projects. The NGO is involved, among other things, in health and sanitation work, specifically helping to clean up the capital.

Burns says local NGOs like SAACID-Somalia that do not cooperate with the leaders are being labeled as terror groups and isolated from the international community.

"The mayor of Mogadishu came into a U.N. meeting one day, when the U.N. was holding a meeting with civil society," continued Burns. "He told the U.N. that they were not to discuss or talk to or partner any Somali NGO because they were all al-Qaida terrorists, quote unquote. For us, it means we can no longer partner the U.N. because the U.N. money is all going to the government and they are not willing to partner local NGOs separate from the TFG. So, legitimate NGOs that have a track record are out of it. There is no funding."

Education Minister Ismail Hurreh denies the interim government is trying to control the activities of aid agencies or to extort money from them.

"The government recognizes the legitimate work of the non-governmental organizations in many, many fields," said Hurreh. "Provided that they are not doing anything unlawful, provided they are not putting security into question, definitely they are free to go about doing their business as they deem fit."

Since the raid on June 18, Burns says Ethiopian troops, who protect the interim government, have set up a tent in front of the SAACID-Somalia compound and are continuing to harass anyone entering or leaving the compound.