Deaths In Somalia Underscore Risks MSF Endures

By Salon Staff

Published December 30, 2011 6:00PM (EST)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A second foreigner working with Doctors Without Borders died of his wounds in an attack in Somalia that also killed the group's country director, though the aid organization declared Friday that despite the risks it would still provide medical care in one of the world's most dangerous countries.

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

The shootings were blamed on a Somali MSF logistics officer who had been fired the day before over allegations he had been stealing medicine. The gunman was arrested after the attack.

"MSF will be relocating some staff for security reasons, but remains committed to continuing our humanitarian work in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia," the group said in a statement Friday. MSF said it was "shocked and saddened" by the deaths.

Doctors Without Borders was worried that Keiluhu could be targeted for further attack even while he was in the hospital in Mogadishu, clinging to life. An internal security report obtained by The Associated Press said that MSF asked the Somali government to protect Keiluhu.

"The clan of the former logistics officer is thought to have been making significant profits from the re-sale of stolen MSF-Belgium medicine, and there were concerns about further attempts on the doctor's life," the security report said.

Doctors Without Borders has endured deadly attacks before. In June 2004, five workers with the group — two Afghans, a Norwegian, a Dutchman and a Belgian — were killed by gunmen in Afghanistan. The group pulled out of Afghanistan shortly afterward. Three MSF members — a Kenyan surgeon, a French logistics expert and a Somali driver — died in Somalia in 2007 after a landmine attack that the group believes was premeditated.

The Somali employee, who ran the group's logistics, was dismissed from his job on Wednesday, then returned to the MSF compound on Thursday and opened fire with a pistol, according to a security guard there. Guards who had not been informed of the dismissal allowed the former employee onto the compound, the security guard said.

Havet died immediately. Keiluhu died later of his wounds later despite numerous blood transfusions, said nurse Abdiaziz Haji. Keiluhu had been shot several times in the torso, Haji said.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said the perpetrator of the attack would be brought to justice "at the earliest opportunity." Ali offered condolences to the families of the two aid workers and thanked them "for their enormous contribution to making the lives of Somalis better."

"This year's response from the international aid community to the disaster in Somalia ought to be commended," he said, referring to the severe famine. "We welcome those who are willing to come to Somalia to work for the benefit of Somalis. This is a callous attack and a tragic example of an isolated incident and does not reflect any increased risk to international aid workers. I want to reassure the international aid community that we will do everything we can to enable foreign aid workers to operate safely in Somalia."

Despite Ali's assurances, the deaths underscore the dangers faced by aid workers trying to help residents in a country mired in two decades of anarchy.

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. There whereabouts are unknown. Dadaab is filled with nearly a half million Somali refugees fleeing conflict and hunger. Kenya used that kidnapping, as well as previous abductions of British and French women, to justify its military incursion into Somalia.

Only a few days later, gunmen abducted a 32-year-old female American aid worker in northern Somalia along with a Danish colleague from the de-mining unit of the Danish Refugee Council.

Many aid groups do not allow international aid workers in Somalia or limit the time they can spend there. Security in Mogadishu has improved this year but Thursday's shooting shows how dangerous it remains. Doctors Without Borders has been working in the Horn of Africa nation since 1991.

In its statement, the group described Havet as an "experienced emergency coordinator" who worked with MSF in Angola, Congo, Indonesia, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Somalia, beginning in 2000. Keiluhu had worked with the group since 1998, in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Thailand and Somalia.

Meanwhile, Kenya's military spokesman said Friday that five fighters from the militant group al-Shabab and one Kenyan soldier died in a clash in southern Somalia. Kenyan forces moved into Somalia in mid-October, declaring the cross-border kidnappings had created insecurity in neighboring Kenya.

Al-Shabab reported a far different version of events, saying on its official Twitter feed that its fighters burned three armored personnel carriers and killed 11 Kenyan soldiers in a complex ambush that began with the detonation of an improvised explosive device.

It was impossible to confirm either version of events.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that it has sent urgently needed medical supplies to southern Somalia "on both sides of the frontline" — meaning on the Kenyan military side and the al-Shabab side.

"More than 100 wounded people, mainly civilians, reached the medical facilities during the most recent phase of the fighting," said Randi Jensen, an ICRC nurse. "It has become very dangerous for patients to reach the few clinics available to them and we just don't know how many more wounded are still out there, desperately waiting to get help."

The ICRC urged both sides to ensure that civilians are not harmed during the fighting.

The United Nations refugee agency said a refugee leader in Dadaab was shot Thursday evening and died Friday. Commissioner Antonio Guterres said he regretted the killing of the chairperson of the Community Peace and Security Team in the Hagadera camp.

Salon Staff

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