Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Despite Claims of Victory in US-backed Invasion, the AU and Arab League Demand Ethiopian Withdrawal

23:25 MECCA TIME, 20:25 GMT

Somali fighters flee towards Kenya

With the help of Ethiopian forces, the Somali interim government has control of Mogadishu

Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts fighters have fled towards Kenya after abandoning their last stronghold on Monday in the southern town of Kismayo to government forces backed by Ethiopian troops, tanks and aircraft.

The Somalian government has asked Kenya to close its border to the group crossing into the east of the country.

Somalia's interim prime minister has offered an amnesty to the Islamic courts fighters.

Ethiopian backing has enabled the embattled government to break out of its provincial enclave and drive the militia from the capital, Mogadishu, and end their six-month control of much of the country.

Uganda has offered to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia within the next few days.

Mohamoud Hurreh, Somalia's foreign minister, told Al Jazeera on Monday that he expected the government to complete its victory over the Islamic courts.

"We are going to go after them until they surrender. We expect to finish them off."

For his part, Ali Jama, the Somali information minister, said the Islamic courts militia men and "foreign fighters" were headed towards Kenya and that the government had appealed to Kenya to seal its border.

Kenyan officials said they had not recieved orders to close the border but had reinforced ground and air patrols in the area.

Amnesty offered

On Monday, Ali Mohamed Gedi, the Somali interim prime minister, ordered all Somalis to hand over their weapons by Thursday.

He also offered an amnesty to Islamic courts fighters who surrendered their weapons, but said it did not extend to the group's leaders.

"If they fail to heed the orders of the government, the government will forcefully extract weapons from them," he said.

Gedi appealed to other world powers and aid agencies for "assistance to those people in the regions affected by the war and the flooding before that".

He also appealed for African Union forces to be stationed in the country.

Gedi said: "We are consulting with the African Union and the member states. They are still needed for their support in the pacification and stabilisation of the country. We would like the military observers and peacekeapers to come in to help us as soon as possible."

Final stronghold falls

Earlier on Monday, Islamic courts fighters fled from their final stronghold around the southern Somali port town of Kismayo in the face of an advancing force of Ethiopian and interim government soldiers.

A Kismayo resident said: "The Islamic courts left Kismayo last night. They left [their front line at] Jilib as well.

"Nobody knows where they went. There's a lot of confusion."

The besieged Islamic courts had rallied several thousand fighters at Jilib, just north of Kismayo on the shores of the Indian Ocean, after a retreat south 300km from the capital, Mogadishu.

Ethiopian troops fighting to support the interim government had fired mortars and rockets at the UIC fighters dug in near Kismayo on Sunday to start a battle against them.

Fearing a bloodbath, residents ran for their lives, carrying blankets, food and water on their heads.

Reversed roles

The Somali government said that despite its military successes it recognised that a political settlement was still vital in order to head off the possibility of an Islamist anti-government campaign.

The interior minister, Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed, said: "If we do not reconcile with them, then they will start an insurgency like in Iraq."

The intervention of Ethiopia has reversed the fortunes of the provisional government and the Islamic courts, which two weeks ago controlled the capital and appeared on the verge of routing a weak interim government stranded in the provincial town of Baidoa.

Ethiopia says it has 4,000 troops in Somalia, though many believe that number could be far higher.

Source: Agencies

Somali Islamists told to disarm

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi has given overpowered Islamist fighters three days to hand in their weapons.

The move comes after Somali government forces and heavily-armed Ethiopian troops drove the Islamist militia from areas they had held for six months.

Early on Monday, the militia abandoned their final stronghold, the southern port of Kismayo.

Somalia's government has appealed to Kenya to seal the border to prevent fleeing Islamist forces from crossing.

Kenya had "put the necessary security measures in place along the common border" and its forces were on alert, a statement on the Kenyan government spokesman's website said.

'Misled by terrorists'

Mr Ghedi has set a deadline of Thursday for residents of the capital, Mogadishu, to hand in their weapons or be forcibly disarmed.

"Those who have been misled by international terrorists themselves, those who flew away from the capital city purposely or following the misleading of the terrorists are called upon to come back," he said on Monday.

"The government is providing amnesty for them."

He appealed for humanitarian aid for the country and urged the African Union (AU) to send peacekeepers.

"We would like the military observers and peacekeepers to come in to help us as soon as possible," he told reporters.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has called for a summit of East African countries to discuss the situation, while Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa told the BBC that his country was ready to commit 1,000 troops as part of an African regional peace-keeping force.

'Won't stop fighting'

The Islamists - known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) - swept through Somalia last year, driving warlords out and rapidly extending their influence to much of central and southern Somalia.

Their retreat from Kismayo is seen as a major reversal.

The UIC had withdrawn to the port city on Thursday, after abandoning Mogadishu, which it had controlled since June.

The militia then left Kismayo before a combined Somali-Ethiopian force arrived on Monday.

The BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi, Kenya, says this is far from the end of the story, as the Islamists have vowed to fight back.

An Islamic commander, Sheikh Yaqub Ishak, confirmed his forces had left Kismayo, but said they would not "stop fighting the Ethiopian invader".

The Islamists have rejected offers of talks with the government, saying Ethiopia must withdraw its forces first.

Ethiopian troops officially entered Somalia on 24 December, joining fighters loyal to Somalia's interim government, to repel an Islamist assault on the government stronghold of Baidoa.

Ethiopia accuses the UIC of harbouring al-Qaeda militants. This is denied by the militia.

The presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil could damage the government's attempts to win widespread support, our correspondent says.

The UN estimates that about 30,000 people have been displaced during the fighting, and casualties have been high.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/01/02 02:51:35 GMT

3:03 MECCA TIME, 0:03 GMT

Kenya to convene summit on Somalia

Ethiopian troops have played a key role in the routing of Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts

Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, has said he will convene an urgent regional summit to discuss the worsening situation in Somalia.

"As a country we are also keen on experiencing regional peace and stability. It is for this reason that I wish to appeal for peace in the Horn of Africa," he said in a New Year message.

"As chairman of IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development], I will be convening an IGAD summit early in the new year in order to urgently discuss the unfolding events in Somalia."

IGAD is an East African group comprising Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Kibaki did not give a date for the summit that comes after Kenyan diplomats made a failed attempt last week to avert the latest stage of the conflict by inviting Somali Islamic courts leaders to secret talks in Nairobi.

He said: "We don't want people to continue fighting, what are they fighting for ... in the end it all, you will see people dead."

Ongoing assault

The Kenyan leader spoke as Somali government forces backed by Ethiopian troops and tanks attacked Islamic courts fighters near their final stronghold town of Kismayo in the south, about 500km south of the capital Mogadishu.

The militia's commanders conceded on Sunday that government and Ethiopian troops, backed by tanks and trucks, had taken control of Jilib township, about 100km north of Kismayo.

Kenya, which mediated the convoluted peace talks that ended in the creation of the Somali interim government in 2004, faces the prospect of receiving additional Somali refugees.

Source: Agencies

Somalia: Who supports who?

The Islamist group that has controlled much of Somalia for the last six months has abandoned the capital after an Ethiopian-backed government offensive. But there are fears that the hostilities could still engulf the region in conflict. So where does each side get its money, weapons and moral support?


The transitional government is formally supported by the African Union, the United Nations and the regional grouping, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad).

But its strongest support comes from Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is determined not to see an Islamic state established on his borders.

Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf has always had close ties with Ethiopia.

His first foreign visit after taking office in 2004 was to Addis Ababa, and it was reported that he wanted a 20,000-strong mainly Ethiopian force to strengthen his government, which has been based in Baidoa, not the capital, Mogadishu.

The Somali parliament in Baidoa approved the deployment of foreign forces inside Somalia, a move strenuously resisted by the Islamists in Mogadishu.

For months, Ethiopia denied claims that it had troops in Somalia, only admitting to having military trainers there working with government forces.

But in late December Ethiopia launched a large-scale offensive taking territory captured by the Islamists over the last six months.

Ethiopia says it has no plans to stay in Somalia in the long term.

Apart from the support President Yusuf's government has received from Ethiopia, there are a number of reports of Yemeni planes arriving in Baidoa, bringing arms and ammunition.

A group of Europeans and Australians has been arrested in Yemen, accused of breaking a United Nations arms embargo on Somalia.

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) also accuses Kenya, where the transitional government was formed after years of discussions, of being biased in favour of the government.


During the six months that the Union of Islamic Courts ruled Mogadishu, it brought order to the capital.

Finances for the courts are reportedly being provided by rich individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

The government also says that Islamist radicals from around the world have gone to help the UIC.

This is strongly denied by the Islamic courts.

There have also been reports that Eritrea - which has a long-running border dispute with Ethiopia - has been supplying arms to the Islamists.

A leaked UN report says that 2,000 "fully equipped" Eritrean troops are working with the UIC.

This is denied by the authorities in Asmara.

The chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, wrote to the UN, the European Union and the United States, calling for the establishment of friendly relations with the international community, based on mutual respect.

In a four-page letter he denied giving sanctuary to Islamic extremists, or groups loyal to al-Qaeda.

But another key UIC leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on a US list of individuals linked to terror groups.


The African Union has called for Ethiopian forces to leave Somalia following their offensive, however the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

Earlier in December, the Security Council passed a unanimous resolution to provide an 8,000-strong African peacekeeping force to protect the weak government.

This follows the establishment of the International Contact Group on Somalia by diplomats in June, which had the support of the US, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Tanzania and the EU.

The African Union, Arab League and Kenya participated as observers.

The Contact Group was formed after the collapse of the previous US strategy, which was to back the warlords who had controlled Mogadishu for many years.

The US was represented by Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

She has claimed that radical forces have sidelined more moderate forces in the Union of Islamic Courts.

"The top layer of the courts are extremists to the core, they are terrorists and they are creating this logic of war," she said in December.

Earlier she had said the union needed to be aware that the status of terrorists was a "core interest" of the US.

Meanwhile, the contact group had called for talks between the interim government and the UIC.

But three rounds of peace talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, organised by the Arab League were inconclusive.

At one stage, the rivals had agreed a ceasefire but the Islamists continued to gain ground and both sides swapped fiery rhetoric.

The government no longer trusts the Arab League to mediate and the final round broke up without agreement in November.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/28 11:07:41 GMT

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