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Ambush on UNHCR vehicle in Somalia's Puntland region

Briefing notes

Ambush on UNHCR vehicle in Somalia's Puntland region

8 April 2008

UNHCR is shocked by an ambush over the weekend on a UNHCR vehicle in the town of Garowe, in the north-eastern Somali region of Puntland. Two staff members somehow escaped unscathed after their vehicle was ambushed by a group of armed militamen who blocked the way with a car. More than 20 bullets holes were counted in the UNHCR vehicle, which was carrying an international staff member and the UNHCR local driver. Both remain deeply shocked.

The UNHCR driver managed to reverse his vehicle and drove away from the scene under heavy gunfire. The Special Police Unit (SPU) which was escorting the UNHCR vehicle later managed to arrest four suspects and recovered three AK-47 rifles. One SPU officer was shot in the leg and is presently under medical care.

The police in Garowe are conducting further investigation and through the arrest of the four suspects mentioned above, are in a position to identify who is behind this heinous attack. UNHCR has called on the Puntland authorities to take strong measures to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that such attacks won't happen again. Should impunity prevail, it would gravely affect the continuity of UNHCR's activities in the region and would affect the overall humanitarian response.

The security situation in Somalia's Puntland region has been deteriorating for the past months, making the delivery of assistance to vulnerable people increasingly difficult. International NGOs pulled out of the region last year, after several abduction incidents and other attacks. A journalist and two NGO workers were kidnapped and held for days in Bossaso, another town in Puntland. The activities of militia have increased in the region, along with illegal check points and criminal activities. A kidnapping also occurred in South Somalia, where two foreigners, are still held after being kidnapped last week. They were employed by a corporation which was leading a survey for a UN agency.

UNHCR has three offices in Puntland, where it provides assistance to internally displaced Somalis as well as to asylum seekers and refugees who fled from other countries. Despite difficult conditions on the ground, the UN refugee agency distributed aid to over 200,000 Somalis last year.