/ 19 September 2007

Threats force Mogadishu radio station to go off air

An influential Somali radio station went off the air on Wednesday after two government soldiers threatened to pound the building with ”machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles”, the radio station’s director said.

Shabelle radio shut down one day after police searching for insurgents opened fire outside the station, killing one person and sending employees inside the building ducking for cover.

Jafar Kukay, the station director, said after that attack that two soldiers threatened to ”pound the building with machine-guns and anti-aircraft missiles if they find us on-air again”.

Information Minister Madobe Nunow Mohamed said he had no information about the closure.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned Tuesday’s attack.

”Conditions for journalists in Somalia have become so perilous that over 30 reporters have fled the capital this year,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. ”Police should be protecting journalists, not attacking them.”

Last month, two prominent Somali journalists were assassinated within hours of each other — one just outside his office and the other as he returned from his colleague’s burial. Those journalists worked for HornAfrik radio.

Shabelle and HornAfrik broadcasts have criticised both the government and the Islamic militants who have been trying to topple the administration. Most Mogadishu residents get their news by listening to the radio.

The Somali capital is increasingly caught in a guerrilla war, with frequent roadside bombs and mortar attacks. Thousands of civilians have been killed, and a fifth of Mogadishu’s two million residents have fled to squalid camps. On Tuesday night, insurgents fired at a military base, sparking a gun battle that killed two civilians, witnesses said.

”Two of our neighbours died when several [rocket propelled grenades] hit our houses,” said Khadija Sheikh Muse, who lives in a slum near the targeted base.

Islamic militants vowed to conduct an insurgency in December, when they were toppled by Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s government.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. — Sapa-AP