Reporters on the Job

Security for Rent: There are only a handful of places in Somalia considered safe enough for foreign journalists to visit. Baidoa, home to the transitional government about 130 miles to the west of Mogadishu, is one of them - but only just, as reporter Rob Crilly found out.

"While I was there my lunch was interrupted by the crackle of gunfire from somewhere down the street," says Rob.

It turned out that one of the contractors doing building work at the town's tumble down police station had resorted to AK-47s to resolve a billing dispute.

In fact, gunfire was fairly common in Baidoa. When you rent a car, Rob notes, "it comes with a fellow sitting in the passenger seat with an AK-47."

The UN officials in Baidoa also recommend that any foreigner traveling in the area hire extra gunmen. In this case, Rob's rental car was followed a pickup truck loaded with guards. "At $100 per day, it was a pretty good value, even if I was only traveling around the corner to the parliament."

He also spoke to a couple of warlords in Mogadishu by phone. "They invited me to come visit them. They said, 'Don't worry. We'll provide security and take care of you.' "

This is the same city portrayed in the 2001 Hollywood movie "Black Hawk Down," which shows US soldiers in a combat mission gone awry in 1993. Four journalists were also killed, and Monitor staffer Scott Peterson was injured. The US and UN pulled out in 1995.

Ever since, it's been rare for Western journalists to visit the warlord-run capital. So, Rob was tempted, and considered the offer - for about 30 seconds. He declined to go but he was intrigued that the warlords were interested in getting their story out to the world.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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