Published on Thursday, February 9, 2000 in the Sydney Morning Herald
The Aid Agency 'CARE' Aided US Agents During Somalian Intervention
by Sue Neales and Andrew Clennell
 
The aid agency CARE Australia directly assisted United States operatives during the United Nations-sanctioned military and humanitarian intervention in war-torn Somalia.

On December 15, 1992, two days before a UN force marched into the starving and besieged town of Baidoa, CARE Australia sheltered, housed, transported and advised four US men who identified themselves to journalists as officers of the US State Department.

From within the supposedly neutral walls of the CARE Australia compound, the reconnaissance officers co-ordinated the arrival in Baidoa of the combat helicopters, military aircraft and 700 US and French troops in the UN convoy early on December 16.

The US officers, who parachuted into Baidoa the previous night, were briefed extensively for 24 hours by CARE Australia's head of mission at Baidoa, Mr Lockton Morrisey.

Mr Morrisey left CARE Australia several months ago after more than nine years working with the aid organisation, most recently in the Middle East. He had earlier worked for the Australian Army.

The latest disclosures come amid growing international concern about the apparent readiness and willingness of the CARE aid agency to compromise its independent humanitarian role in war-torn countries such as Somalia and Bosnia.

Last night, CARE Australia denied it would have had anything to do with helping US military personnel set up in Somalia, and said any aid worker who did so would have been sacked.

Dateline on SBS last week revealed CARE Canada had a contract with the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe to provide peace monitors in Kosovo - an involvement which CARE's chairman. Mr Malcolm Fraser, and the aid worker jailed on spying allegations, Mr Steve Pratt, both said they opposed.

In the SBS interview Mr Fraser made plain his strong disapproval of the CARE Canada arrangement, and said: "These kinds of operations should not be mixed up."

His daughter, Miss Phoebe Fraser, worked at the CARE Australia compound at Baidoa under the leadership of Mr Morrisey for several months.

She and three other women on CARE Australia's staff were evacuated from Baidoa a week before the UN's arrival in Somalia, as the local clan wars became increasingly violent.

CARE Australia's involvement in helping the arrival of UN forces into Baidoa was extensive. A clearly marked white CARE Australia vehicle was used, with Mr Morrisey's approval to transport the four men around the town.

The US State Department agents slept inside the CARE Australia compound and hid most of their sophisticated communications equipment in a room next to its heavily protected wheat storage bunker.

Several briefing meetings - one lasting at least four hours - were held between the four and Mr Morrisey in the CARE Australia offices.

One of CARE Australia's buildings was used as the US agents' command post, with the men stationed on its roof with fluorescent marker lights preceding the entry of UN troops into the besieged city, 260 kilometres inland from Mogadishu.

They mapped strategic locations, intersections and roads with their military satellite positioning systems, and relayed the information to the US Army headquarters in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Mr Fraser told the Herald last night that he had contacted the chief executive of CARE Australia of the time, Mr Ian Harris, who told him "if it had have happened, he would have heard about it".

Mr Fraser said another CARE worker who was in Somalia, Ms Jane Black, said she had not seen anything of that nature.

The chief executive of CARE Australia, Mr Charles Tapp, issued a statement last night: "Management of CARE Australia at the time and today had - and have - no knowledge of any of the allegations put forward by Fairfax Newspapers regarding CARE's operations in Somalia in 1992.

"The activity simply would not be tolerated by CARE Australia's management or board. An aid worker found to be involved in any covert activity would be immediately dismissed.

"CARE Australia deplores these further allegations. That aid agencies while working in a very dangerous environment were at all times highly conscious of the security of their staff and operations is a matter of record.

... Our humanitarian aid workers are committed to building a better world. CARE Australia staff and the board are saddened and shocked by these allegations.

"Enough is enough. We will continue to get on with our job of saving lives - the question is, will we be allowed to do so?"

Mr Tapp said he had not been in contact with Mr Morrisey for "quite a while" and did not know who he was working for or where he was working.

The Baidoa military arrival was part of Operation Restore Hope - a UN-sanctioned operation to open roads and towns devastated by two years of fighting, so that international relief aid could reach an estimated 2million Somalis in danger of dying of starvation within two months.

At least 400,000 Somalis had already died of hunger during the second half of 1992, with the hills and fertile plains around Baidoa among the worst affected. At the time of the UN intervention, bodies littered the streets of Baidoa and aid agency refugee camps overflowed.

Just before the US State Department agents arrived on his doorstep, Mr Morrisey expressed concerns that the military part of the UN operation might be overshadowing relief efforts.

"There seems to be this feeling that once the Stars and Stripes get here everything will be fine," Mr Morrisey told the Herald in December 1992. "But if the arrival of the marines slows our work down by even a day, that is a lot of lives that are still being lost."

The important thing, he said, was for the US forces to remember they were in Somalia to help distribute food. "It seems to have gone from Operation Restore Hope and getting the food up the road from Mogadishu to Baidoa, to a 'let's get the rebel military and disarm the population' attitude.

"The US public seems to have the impression that this is the Gulf War and that the US has invaded Somalia. But the military part should be the sideshow, not the central issue. That has to be to stop Somalis dying of hunger."

Sue Neales was the Herald's correspondent in Somalia in December 1992 during the UN forces military and humanitarian intervention to try to save 2 million Somalis dying of starvation and in war.

Never any pretence of neutrality

CARE Australia's compound in Somalia consisted of three whitewashed buildings on a red dirt road on the outskirts of Baidoa. In December 1992, hundreds of sandbags barricaded the wooden gates to ward off the rebel attackers who had been arriving with guns late at night to try and steal the aid agency's wheat stores.

Inside, besieged CARE Australia staff awaited the arrival of the relieving Operation Restore Hope forces. Tension had been growing in Baidoa since the United Nations had secured Mogadishu, and vital aid work to help outlying villages deprived of food and water had temporarily been halted.

The only link to the outside world for the CARE Australia leader, Mr Lockton Morrisey, and his remaining staff - as well as this journalist, a paying guest - was a satellite phone and small dish that sat on the ground under a palm tree. On the other side of the compound's walls, bullet shots could be heard.

In the early hours of December 15, four US State Department officers arrived. Supposedly meant to be inconspicuous, these agents with their white shirts, black paratrooper pants and cases of communications equipment succeeded only in looking ludicrous in the dusty, hot war town.

Two hours later, Mr Morrisey told us that two of the agents, with their hand-held military GPS boxes, would be coming with us on the CARE Australia van that we had already arranged would be taking us on a tour of the still-dangerous streets of Baidoa.

As we drove off, the van detoured to some of Baidoa's outer streets and intersections - meeting the main road from Mogadishu down which the UN convoy would arrive the next day. For the next two hours the US men furiously keyed map co-ordinates into their handsets aboard the CARE Australia vehicle, designing a route by which the troops could arrive in Baidoa and quietly encircle the city, while avoiding its troublespots and main thoroughfares.

All that day, brightly coloured paper notes blew down Baidoa's laneways, past its few remaining barricaded homes and across its overgrown soccer pitch. They were UN propaganda leaflets - apparently dropped by the same US planes that had delivered our State Department emissaries - picturing a smiling US soldier backed by a rifle, helicopter and armoured car shaking hands with a happy Somali villager in his sarong.

It was meant to read, "We are international soldiers from the United Nations and we come in peace to help you", but the Somali language had been mangled, causing much hilarity in the Baidoa marketplace when it called the US-led forces "Soldiers of the united slaves".

That night, after waking about 2am and hearing noises, I climbed the concrete stairs of an outer building in the CARE compound. On the flat white rooftop I found about six black-garbed figures moving around in the shadows under a clear starry desert night.

Lime-green snap fluorescent sticks were laid out across the flat roof. There was much whispered talking into walkie-talkies, while large transmitters and communication boxes buzzed and crackled.

The officers were talking with the UN forces, in their combat helicopters, tanks, armoured cars and marching men, who were on the outskirts of Baidoa ready to enter the town before dawn.

There was no pretence that this was the roof of an independent and supposedly neutral aid agency. This was a precision military operation being carried out from within the safety of CARE Australia's Baidoa compound.

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Copyright 2000. The Sydney Morning Herald