Millions of pounds of British taxpayers money is being used to support a government in Somalia accused of human rights abuses and war crimes.
The money is supposed to be used to strengthen security and democracy, but The Times has learnt that it is financing a police force filled with militiamen and led by one of the countrys most notorious warlord, Abdi Hasan Awale Qaybdib.
At various times he has fought US forces or been given American money to fight Islamic extremists. Now he is being funded to keep the peace.
Donors privately admit that they cannot control where their money is going but say that there is no alternative. An element of a leap of faith is required, one Western diplomat said. Otherwise we have to walk away. Somalias interim Government took control of Mogadishu in December 2006 when Ethiopian troops defeated the forces of the Islamic Courts Union, which had held most of southern and central Somalia for six months. Since then the fragile regime has fought Islamist insurgents and clan gunmen, and an estimated one million people have fled Mogadishu.
The Government survives on foreign donations, channelled through the UN Development Programme. The British Department for International Development (DfID) is the second-largest donor behind the European Commission to UN programmes supporting the Transitional Federal Government, having committed £11 million to date.
More than £10 million, including £2.5 million of British money, is being used to refurbish government buildings, cover running costs and provide technical assistance. Members of the Somali parliament, many of whom earned their seats through military muscle, receive a monthly stipend of £600. But the biggest chunk of donor cash some £15 million, including £3.2 million from the DfID is being spent on rule-of-law programmes. This is meant for the police as salaries and to buy radios and vehicles.
The police are controlled by Brigadier-General Qaybdib, whose militias once fought US and UN forces in Mogadishu. In 1993 his capture by US special forces launched the events that led up to the so-called First Battle of Mogadishu and was portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down.
Since then, however, he has been seen as an ally in the War on Terror and admits receiving thousands of dollars from the US to fight Islamic insurgents in Mogadishu during 2006. He is now police commissioner and one of several warlords who hold positions within the transitional Government or its security arms.
UN monitors say that police officers, far from keeping solely to peace duties, have fought alongside Ethiopian troops and have been accused of looting, firing indiscriminately into crowds, and torture. A report published last week by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia cited numerous allegations that the police had recruited clan militias so that they could collect salaries provided by international donors.
The money for police wages, thought to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, was given in a lump sum to Brigadier-General Qaybdib and his deputies last year after he insisted that a UN proposal to pay officers directly undermined his authority. No money has been paid this year.
The report also gives details of three occasions when police took part in military engagements, and claims that officers are collecting fees and taxes at roadblocks. In some cases, the report says, they have sold weapons at Mogadishus main arms market. Other UN reports detail allegations of torture, indiscriminate shooting of civilians and harassment of journalists.
In an interview with The Times, Brigadier-General Qaybdib denied that his officers had been involved. I am not a warlord, although I have had my own militia. I did fight UN forces but that was only because my clan was being treated unfairly.
A spokeswoman for the DfID said officials were concerned by reports of mismanagement. But she added it was up to Somalis to decide who should lead their police and that British money was only given to agencies with robust accounting mechanisms. We can only work within the existing conditions in Somalia, far from ideal as these may be