Friday, January 05, 2007

Occupationists Seek to Disarm the Somali Masses

Government in Somalia to seize weapons

Premier vows to use force if necessary. Parliament is to meet

By Edmund Sanders
Times Staff Writer
January 5, 2007

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — As Somalia's parliament prepared to convene for the first time since the transitional government took control of this capital last week, the prime minister vowed Thursday to begin seizing heavy weapons in Mogadishu, by force if necessary.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi predicted that the gun collection would go peacefully, however, saying the government had reached deals with major businesspeople and warlords holding about 60% of the city's weapons.

During a three-day grace period that ended Thursday, fewer than 50 Mogadishu residents turned in their guns, in a city of 2.5 million.

Gedi said the government would first focus on collecting heavy weapons, such as trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns, known here as technicals, and armored vehicles. The effort will then be expanded to include assault rifles and handguns owned by individuals. An aide said the government had identified about 400 technicals in the city that authorities planned to seize today.

"We are targeting those sites," Gedi said, after presiding over the swearing-in of newly appointed judges at a Mogadishu courthouse. "We will not start with house-to-house [searches]…. The stakeholders are ready to cooperate and hand over" weapons.

The government is scrambling to complete disarmament as quickly as possible, while it still has the support of more than 4,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

Since Somalian and Ethiopian troops seized the capital from Islamist fighters, the government has moved slowly to fill the security vacuum. About 2,000 government soldiers are based around Mogadishu, only half the number needed to secure the city, Gedi said. About 500 newly trained police officers are en route from Baidoa, which has served as the government's interim capital. Somalia is negotiating to bring in African Union peacekeepers from Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.

Residents and major clans have voiced reluctance to give up their guns until they are assured that the government can keep the peace. Over the last week, militias loyal to warlords have reasserted control in some neighborhoods. For the first time since the Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of Muslim leaders, took power in June, gunfire now echoes through the streets again several times a day.

Hussein Aidid, the interior minister, said Thursday that more than 3,000 former Islamist fighters were hiding in Mogadishu, including the leader of one of the Islamic courts' most extreme factions, known as Shabab. He said Islamist fighters were planning guerrilla attacks in the city, including the assassination of top officials. The disarmament campaign will focus first on collecting weapons left behind or hidden by fleeing Islamists, he said.

"We have to go after those before they sell these very dangerous weapons in the market," Aidid said.

Prices for AK-47s and machine guns, after falling early this week at the start of the voluntary hand-over period, are now on the rise. With daily radio reports about the latest prices and sales, residents are tracking gun market activity the way Western investors monitor Wall Street, using the ups and downs to measure consumer optimism.

Gedi said Thursday that the gun market eventually would be shut down, though the government was moving cautiously. Even the tightfisted Islamic Courts Union, which last year largely succeeded in disarming Mogadishu for the first time in 15 years, was never able to shutter the gun market, one of the most dangerous parts of the city.

Both Gedi and Aidid plan to travel to Baidoa today to participate in the parliament session and request approval to impose martial law.

It is the first session since the transitional government seized control of most of southern Somalia, and citizens are watching to see whether lawmakers will be able to set aside differences that have paralyzed them in the past.

One faction unsuccessfully tried to remove Gedi through a vote of no-confidence. Before that, some lawmakers based themselves in Mogadishu, while others insisted that Baidoa should be the provisional capital because of security concerns. During meetings last year in Nairobi, Kenya, infighting among Somalian legislators was so bad that a parliament session turned into a chair-throwing brawl that was broken up by Kenyan police.

Gedi said that government and Ethiopian troops continued to search deserted bush areas near the Kenyan border for fleeing leaders of the Islamic courts. Among those on the run are believed to be three suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The United States is assisting in the search, he said, providing surveillance from the air and sea.

"The U.S. is leading the war against terror," he said. "So it's the major stakeholder in this matter."

Somalia 'needs peace force soon'

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has called for a "speedy deployment" of peacekeepers in his war-torn country.

He said there was a rare chance for a real political breakthrough in Somalia, plagued by violence for 15 years.

Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government ousted Islamist forces less than a week ago.

The US has agreed to provide $10m (£5.2m) towards the funding of a proposed 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

So far, only Uganda has pledged to send troops, agreeing to provide 1,000. Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania are considering requests.

The $10m for the peacekeeping force is part of a total of $40m that the US government has pledged to support government efforts to restore stability in Somalia.

In Somalia itself, Ethiopian troops say they have trapped hundreds of fleeing Islamists in the southern tip of Somalia on the Kenyan border.

The US has deployed ships off the coast to hunt those trying to escape by sea.

And in another development, a top al-Qaeda leader has reportedly urged the Islamist militias to fight "crusaders".

Meanwhile, a hotel owner in Nairobi says two Somali MPs loyal to the Islamists have been arrested, although there has been no official police confirmation.

The BBC's Mohamoud Ali says another two Islamist MPs, who criticised Ethiopia's intervention at a news conference on Thursday, have also been picked up in the city.

'New battlefield'

Mr Yusuf was speaking at a high-level meeting of US, European and African envoys in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

He said an 8,000-strong African Union force agreed by the UN Security Council before the current hostilities should be deployed as soon as possible.

He also called for extra funds for the government and for aid work.

"Your actions would enable us to achieve objectives which not only have great significance for our people but also for the people of the sub-region as a whole," Reuters news agency quoted his speech to the diplomats as saying.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, has said he wants his forces out of the country in a matter of weeks.

The talks come amid fears that a protracted Iraq-style guerrilla war could be launched by the retreating Islamists, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi.

An audio message said to be from al-Qaeda's number two, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for the Islamists to use guerrilla tactics in Somalia.

"I speak to you today as the crusader invader forces of Ethiopia violate the soil of the beloved Muslim Somalia," the five-minute tape posted on a website used by militants said.

"I call upon the Muslim nation in Somalia to remain in the new battlefield that is one of the crusader battlefields that are being launched by America and its allies and the United Nations against Islam and Muslims."

Regional peacekeeping

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the BBC that the EU was closely monitoring the situation.
Ethiopia troops: 8,000-15,000
Government troops: 10,000
Islamists: 600 near Kenyan border ; 3,500 around Mogadishu
Recently displaced: 30,000
Refugees in Kenya: 160,000
Estimated numbers Sources: Somali government, UN, correspondents
"We would like to see a government as inclusive as possible and, at the same time, troops from Ethiopia will have to slowly withdraw and be substituted either by troops from the AU or eventually by troops from the UN," he said.

Assistant US Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer has indicated that the US government will be on hand to assist in any regional peacekeeping effort.

But our correspondent says the US is treading carefully. It was blamed for backing the warlords who until last June ruled for 15 violent years.

Meanwhile, Kenya's government has shut its border with Somalia, despite criticism from the United Nations' refugee agency.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/01/05 15:39:59 GMT

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