Friday, January 19, 2007

Somali War Update: SICC Leader Arrested by Kenya

SICC Leader Sharif Arrested In Kenya

Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) leader Sheikh Ahmed Sharif was arrested by Kenyan authorities near the Dadaab refuge camp on the Somali-Kenyan border, Kenyan daily the East Africa Standard reported Jan. 17.

Sharif, a deputy to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was previously considered a moderate representative of the SICC and is the first member of the SICC leadership to be brought into custody.

Top Militia Commander Arrested

The East African Standard (Nairobi)

An official of the Union of Islamic Court has been arrested in Garissa as hundreds of fleeing immigrants from Somalia camped at the closed border.

Reports indicated that Sheikh Ahmed Sharif Sheikh, believed to be second in command to Sheikh Hassan Aweys, was captured near Dadaab Refugee Camp.

It was claimed the Islamist commander was seized at a roadblock in Damajale location heading to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugee camps in Dadaab division.

Other sources claimed that the Islamist leader was picked by Kenyan authorities and briefly put in custody at the UNHCR sub-office.

Other reports, however, alleged that the Islamist leader voluntarily surrendered to Kenyan officials at the border and requested for asylum status through the refugee agency.

Although Sharif reportedly resigned from the command of the defeated UIC, he was perceived to be the most influential and powerful member of the militia force.

He was also the head of the eight-man decision making committee at the helm of the religious uprising that dethroned the interim Somalia Transitional Federal Government from southern and central parts of the country.

Garissa DC, Mr Joseph Imbwaga, said rumours over the arrest were rife in town, but promised to brief reporters after getting in touch with officials on the ground.

Although the courts gained overwhelming public support at the initial stages, some moderate Muslims felt oppressed when the justice mechanism outlawed consumption of miraa, a favourite pass time stimulant.

Mid-last year Sharif stepped down for Sheikh Aweys following the union’s victory before it was overrun by Ethiopian forces last month.

Imbwaga told journalists at his office that Garissa OCPD, Mr Johnstone Limo, had travelled to the refugee camp to ascertain the arrest since most of the officers on the ground were out of reach.

Meanwhile, eight suspected Somali refugees have been remanded by an Isiolo court while another one was fined for being in the country illegally.

Esewhere, police at the Kenyan-Somali border are holding nine Somali nationals who were found ferrying miraa (khat) to Somalia.

The suspects were intercepted at the Liboi border on Monday evening while aboard two vehicles bearing Somali registration numbers.

Eritrean President: AU Mission in Somalia Doomed to FaiIure

By VOA News
18 January 2007

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki says that any African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission sent into Somalia is doomed to failure.

In an exclusive interview with the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network, President Afewerki says that Somalia has not seen the last of the Islamic Council of Courts.

Somali government troops - with support from Ethiopian forces - drove the Islamic militants out of the capital, Mogadishu, last month. The Islamics have taken refuge in southern Somalia.

But Mr. Afewerki says the Islamic Courts have not been defeated. But he says those who have intervened in Somalia have done so to pursue their own agendas and will soon find themselves in very serious circumstances. He says the African Union lacks the organizational capability to deploy effectively in Somalia.

Al-Jazeera reports that Eritrea has openly supported the Islamic Courts but President Afewerki denies supplying troops to aid their cause in Somalia.

Eritrea and Ethiopia have a 40-year history of bitter rivalry related to a border dispute. The two countries currently maintain a fragile truce.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Nomads report deaths from airstrikes in middle-of-nowhere region of Somalia

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
WARSOW, Somalia

For years, this middle-of-nowhere stretch of sand and brush has been little more than pasture for nomads' cattle and sheep. Now, it is a battleground as Somali troops backed by Ethiopian forces flush out Islamic militants, and the U.S. hunts for al-Qaida in southern Somalia.

Nomads say some herdsmen have been caught in the crossfire. Eight dead men were still unburied Tuesday after an airstrike on Jan. 8. All are Muslim and normally they would be buried as soon as possible after their deaths, but the nomads say they are afraid to approach the bodies.

"We fear for our lives. We fear that the planes that fly over the bodies all the time will bomb us if we try to bury them," said Haji Abdi Duhul, 67, who said he was only 250 meters (yards) away when the site was hit Jan. 8.

Military aircraft flying overhead has become routine for about a week, the nomads say.

Warsow has no permanent residents. Nomads use it as a grazing ground during the dry season because of its ever-present pasture. The nearest town is Af Madow, about 45 kilometers (30 miles) away. Af Madow is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the port town of Kismayo.

An Associated Press reporter saw an Ethiopian helicopter, an Ethiopian MiG fighter jet and a small plane that was difficult to identify fly over Tuesday.

The eight bodies lay in the open, two of them disfigured. The nomads said hyenas common in the area had been at them.

The eight all had Somali features and did not wear military fatigues.

Ugas Mohamed Shangalow, a clan elder, said that he knew the men were civilians and did not belong to any militia.

The U.S. launched one airstrike on Jan. 7 and several Ethiopian airstrikes have been reported since.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the U.S. defense department have said several times that they did not hit civilians during airstrikes and that U.S. forces recovered evidence that the men killed in the U.S. strike were part of the radical wing of Somalia's Islamic movement.

Ethiopian forces helped the Somali government flush the Islamic militants out of the capital and much of southern Somalia in recent weeks. Remnants were believed holed up in the region south of Kismayo, hemmed in by Kenyan troops patrolling the border to the west and by the sea, where U.S. warships were patrolling, to the east.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused leaders of the Somali Islamic movement of harboring three top terror suspects wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Nomads in Waraha, near Warsow, said that seven men there, returning from a wedding ceremony, were killed in a Jan. 8 airstrike. An Associated Press reporter saw nine trucks with Somali number plates burned in Waraha. The nomads say that the Waraha strike was the first one, followed by one on Warsow.

Khalif Abdi, a nomad in Warsow, said that he saw white men in green military uniforms in the area a day after the air strike, when he went to fetch water.

"I don't know their exact numbers. But some were standing by a chopper that was on the site, others were scattered in the jungle. I feared they may harm me, so I sneaked out of the area," said Abdi.

"We didn't expect the superpower U.S. to target us with air strikes, while we need humanitarian aid," said Ugas Mohamed Shangalow, a clan leader in the neighboring Hayo village. "I can confirm that those who were killed in both strikes in Waraha and Warsow were civilians. They were not posing any danger to the world. They hail from local clans. We know them by their names."

Media crackdown in Somalia draws protests

Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:52 AM ET
By Sahal Abdulle

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali government officials were to meet on Tuesday with executives from four major news outlets shut down for "causing unrest" in a move drawing swift criticism from press watchdogs at home and abroad.

The closure of the outlets, accused by the government of heightening tensions by airing unconfirmed reports, came as martial law was declared across Somalia weeks after an Ethiopian-led military offensive ousted Islamists in the south.

"Shutting down private media houses is the worst way to reconcile the Somali people and to bring the country out of these long periods of chaos," Gabriel Baglo, Africa office director of the International Federation of Journalists, said.

"We condemn this unacceptable violation of press freedom."

Representatives of HornAfrik Media and Shabelle Media Network, two of the largest independent broadcasters, plus the Koranic radio station IQK and the local office of Al Jazeera TV were summoned on Tuesday to the national security agency.

Analysts said the government deems the four outlets' coverage to have been pro-Islamist, a charge they all deny.

The National Union of Somali Journalists said the move completely undermined democratic values.

The interim government is trying to bring the volatile nation of 10 million under control after its soldiers, backed by Ethiopian troops, tanks and warplanes, routed Islamists in late December who had seized much of the south.


The United Nations envoy to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, said he would discuss the media closures with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

"The U.N. is always in favor of freedom of expression. It is a principle," Fall told Reuters.

On Monday, HornAfrik and Shabelle both said they had shut down. Qatar-based Al Jazeera said it had not been informed, but saw no reason for such a move. IQK made no immediate comment.

Underlining the challenge Yusuf and Gedi face taming a country in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of a dictator was the latest attack on an Ethiopian convoy in northern Mogadishu.

A doctor said eight people were wounded while a Somali government source said three Somalis were killed.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the assault, which happened late on Sunday in an area where Ethiopian and government forces had seized guns, explosives and an armored car hours earlier in a sweep to scoop up illegal weapons.

But suspicion fell on remnants of the Islamist movement who have vowed to wage a guerrilla war, clan gunmen and militias loyal to former warlords who have returned to the capital.

Ethiopia wants to pull out its soldiers in the coming weeks.

Diplomats fear that would leave a security vacuum around the fledgling government, which has called for the urgent deployment of a promised African Union peacekeeping force.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in Nairobi)

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