UNHCR condemns attack on vehicle in Somalia's Puntland region
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 8 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday condemned the weekend ambush of one of its vehicles in north-eastern Somalia's Puntland and said failure to bring those responsible to justice could affect its future operations in the region.
Two staff members somehow escaped unscathed after their vehicle was ambushed in the town of Garowe by a group of armed militamen, who blocked the way with a car. More than 20 bullet holes were found in the UNHCR vehicle, which was carrying an international staff member and the 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) escorting the UNHCR vehicle later arrested four suspects and recovered three AK-47 assault rifles. One SPU officer was shot in the leg and is receiving medical care.
The police in Garowe are conducting further investigations and believe that they are in a position to identify those behind the 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 do not 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," said Guillermo Bettocchi, UNHCR's Nairobi-based representative for Somalia.
The security situation in Somalia's Puntland region has been deteriorating for the past few months, making the delivery of assistance to vulnerable people increasingly difficult. International aid agencies pulled out of the region last year, after several abduction incidents and other attacks. A journalist and two aid workers were kidnapped and held for days in Bossaso, another town in Puntland.
Militia activities have increased in the region, along with illegal checkpoints and criminal activities. A kidnapping also occurred in southern Somalia, where two foreigners are still being held after their abduction 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 have fled from other countries. Despite difficult conditions on the ground, the UN refugee agency distributed aid to more than 200,000 Somalis last year.
By Catherine Weibel in Kenya, Nairobi