MOGADISHU, Somalia, Oct. 18— Stripped naked, chained to a table and bound hand to leg in pitch darkness, Pvt. Umar Shantali of Nigeria, who was captured by Somali militia forces in early September, was convinced he would be killed by his captors.
He spent his time praying and thinking of his parents and his girlfriend. In the five and a half weeks that the United Nations peacekeeper was held, he was allowed to bathe only once, the day before his release on Oct. 14.
Private Shantali, 20, met reporters today for the first time since he was released, speaking at the Swedish field hospital in Mogadishu, where he is recovering. His memory seems clear; some details are chilling. But in the confusion of the Somali capital, his chronicle cannot be confirmed. Describes Filth and Beatings
“I suffered a lot,” the soldier said. “Every day was night. I was beaten by the Somalis. I went to the bathroom where I lay down. I was afraid they would kill me.”
But despite his treatment, Private Shantali did not express anger or bitterness. He smiled when he spoke of Fatima, for example, the Somali woman who came twice a day to feed him tea and spaghetti and who persuaded the guards to unchain one hand so he could eat on his own.
There was Abdi, Fatima’s husband, who managed after two weeks to bring him clothes, and there was a Somali driver, Mohammed Qassim, who turned to him just as he was about to be freed and asked him to write his name and address in Nigeria so they could exchange letters.
Private Shantali was captured on Sept. 5 by a militia loyal to Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid when Nigerian troops moving into Italian positions in southern Mogadishu were ambushed. Seven Nigerians were killed.
The private was released on Oct. 14 along with a United States helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, who had been shot down during a battle on Oct. 3. The release of the prisoners was arranged by Robert B. Oakley, President Clinton’s special envoy to Somalia. U.N. Holds Somali Prisoners
The United Nations still holds scores of Somali prisoners.
Several times during the interview, Private Shantali’s eyes filled with tears. But he also smiled often and even bantered with reporters. He still limps slightly, and Swedish doctors said injuries to his ligaments could take as long as six months to heal.
Private Shantali was captured almost immediately after the beginning of the gunfight on Sept. 5, he said. The private saw a friend near him fall down and says a Somali slit his throat with a knife.
Private Shantali ran down a side street, and as a crowd of Somalis ran toward him from both directions, the private, a Muslim, fell to his knees, raised his hands and began praying loudly to Allah. He said he believes the Somalis did not kill him because they saw he was a Muslim like them.
Taken to one of the many houses he would be hidden in, he was stripped of his clothes and given a Somali wrap and some tea. Even before his first move, he said, a large man twisted his leg so that he could not escape. Private Shantali said he had ended up in a windowless room for two weeks, on a reed mat, one hand chained to his good leg, the other to a table. He was blindfolded every time he was moved.
What he remembered most clearly, he said, was the sound of the United States helicopters passing over his cell.
On Oct. 2, he was visited by a Red Cross representative. His captors cleaned him up a bit and warned him not to tell how they had treated him.
“I was afraid to tell the Red Cross,” he said. “But I did. I told them, ‘I’m staying without clothes. My toilet is inside my room.’ ”
On Oct. 13, the day before his release, Private Shantali knew something was happening. At 8 P.M. his captors took him to a house with beds and electricity and allowed him to bathe, and then they told him he would be freed. They gave him rice and meat for dinner.
The next day the Somalis took the Nigerian to a house where he met Mr. Durant. They shook hands but spoke very little.
Private Shantali says he is willing to continue serving with the Nigerian contingent in Somalia and that he holds no anger against those who hurt him.
“As a good Muslim, you must forget everything,” he said. “When we die, God can judge everybody.”
Photo: Pvt. Umar Shantali of Nigeria, who was captured by Somali forces, describing his ordeal yesterday in Mogadishu. (Liz Gilbert/Sygma, for The New York Times)
New York Times.