Somalis continue to protest and resist the US-backed invasion of their country. An attempt to disarm the masses has been meet with mass rebellions in Mogadishu.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
New York Times
KISMAYO, Somalia, Jan. 6 — Hundreds of Somalis stormed Saturday into the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia’s already unsteady capital, to hurl rocks at Ethiopian troops allied with the government and to protest a disarmament program that Somali leaders ended up scrapping.
Meanwhile, near Kismayo, along Somalia’s southern coast, Ethiopian-led forces continued to hunt down the last remnants of the once powerful Islamist forces, who ruled much of the country until Ethiopia and its powerful army intervened last month.
According to Abdul Rashid Hidig, a government official in Kismayo, the Ethiopian-led forces blew up several of the Islamists’ armed pickup trucks, leaving hundreds of fighters cornered in a remote jungle with their backs to the Indian Ocean and no way to escape. “I think it will be over very soon,” Mr. Hidig said.
Still, a pack of gunmen attacked a government patrol near Kismayo’s market on Saturday night, and the cracks and whistles of their high-powered rifles echoed across what had been a rather quiet town. It was unclear if anyone was hurt.
Despite much tactical success in recent weeks, Somalia’s transitional government appears to have failed its first leadership test: disarmament. After 16 years of anarchy, the streets of Mogadishu are awash with military-grade weaponry, much of it in the hands of illiterate teenagers. Scooping up these guns was one of the first goals of the transitional government, which had struggled for the past two years to assert control and then, nearly overnight, found itself in charge of a needy, violent country.
On Monday, Ali Mohammed Gedi, a veterinarian turned transitional prime minister, demanded that all Somalis surrender their weapons in three days. Only a handful of Mr. Gedi’s allies complied, so the prime minister extended the deadline, but still, most Somalis did not give up their guns.
Even former military officers disagreed with Mr. Gedi’s approach, saying it would take months, not days, to disarm the populace and that the government should negotiate with militiamen and clan elders.
With the new deadline set to expire Saturday morning and with Mr. Gedi threatening house-to-house searches, riots exploded.
No matter that officials in the government had decided at the last minute to abandon the disarmament program, at least temporarily. By the time the government got the word out Saturday, hundreds of people had already flooded into Mogadishu’s streets. Residents quickly erected roadblocks out of chunks of concrete and flaming tires, and some witnesses said men with rocket-propelled grenades lurked in doorways, prepared to attack government troops.
According to several protesters, the demonstrations were organized by the defeated Islamist movement, which still has thousands of supporters, many armed, in the capital. The supporters had melted back into the population late last month after the Islamists abandoned Mogadishu, ceding it to Ethiopian and Somali forces without a fight.
On Saturday, women in a kaleidoscope of colored shawls shook Korans in their hands and shouted “Down, down, Ethiopia!” and “The infidels must die!” Ethiopia is a country with a long Christian history, though it is about half Muslim. Somalia’s Islamist leaders have repeatedly tried to stir up support by casting the Ethiopian troops as infidel invaders.
The demonstrators surged through downtown Mogadishu lighting fires with plastic jugs of gasoline, throwing rocks at cars and punching fists through windows.
“Unless we do this, the Ethiopians will never leave,” said Nuro Ibraheim, a 28-year-old woman. The protesters surrounded a military camp used by Ethiopian and government troops and began to pelt it with stones. According to witnesses, Ethiopian troops first fired in the air. When that did not work, the witnesses said, the soldiers aimed into the crowd and several people were hurt. Hospital officials said one teenage boy was killed.
By midday, the violence had flared out, and the demonstrators had gone home.
“We have postponed the disarmament until an unspecified time,” said Salad Ali Jelle, the deputy defense minister. “We are now talking with clan elders about how to proceed.”
The transitional government, a mix of clan elders, foreign-educated professionals and former warlords, was formed in 2004 with the help of United Nations officials and has a mandate to rule until proposed elections in 2009. The transitional government concedes that it needs outside muscle to maintain order once the Ethiopians go home.
Americans officials have been heavily lobbying African allies, especially Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa, to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force. On Sunday, Jendayi E. Frazer, the United States assistant secretary of state for Africa, is scheduled to visit Mogadishu for four hours to meet with Somali leaders and intellectuals.
The trip is still tentative because of the continuing turmoil. If Ms. Frazer does arrive, she will be the highest ranking American official to set foot in Somalia since American forces pulled out of the country in 1994, the year after 18 Americans were killed during an attempt to capture a warlord in Mogadishu.
Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu.
Anti-Ethiopia protests rock Mogadishu
From correspondents in
January 07, 2007 03:40am
ETHIOPIAN troops and Somali protesters have exchanged fire in Mogadishu today, killing three people as hundreds of Somalis demonstrated against the foreign forces and a government disarmament drive.
The protesters hurled stones and burnt tyres, wreathing streets in smoke and reviving memories of the chaos that had largely stopped during six months of strict Islamist rule before the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) was ousted last week.
"The Ethiopians opened fire and shot dead a young boy and a lady, they also killed another person," a witness said. Other witnesses agreed.
"The (government) and Ethiopian troops invaded our country and they have shot my son for no good reason," Omar Halane, the father of the boy, said.
A government source said one person had died and that police had opened fire in Tarbuunka square, where the Islamists had held regular anti-Ethiopian demonstrations when they controlled the volatile capital.
"Protesters shot at policemen, the police returned fire killing one man," the source said. "I don't know how many people have been wounded."
In the latest show of discontent with the forces that ousted the Islamists, hundreds of Somalis marched through the capital chanting: "Down with Ethiopia."
Ethiopian soldiers fired in the air to disperse crowds and government troops armed with AK-47s patrolled the streets.
Somalia's interim government wants to install itself in Mogadishu, one of the world's most dangerous cities, after ousting the Islamists with the help of Ethiopian troops, tanks and warplanes.
Within hours of the Islamists fleeing, militiamen loyal to warlords reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorise civilians.
Muse Sudi Yalahow, a warlord dislodged by the Islamists in the June battle for Mogadishu, came back to the capital on Saturday but declined to speak to reporters.
Residents fear Mogadishu could slide back into the anarchy and clan violence that has gripped the city since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.
"We are against the Ethiopian troops' occupation. We don't want them, they should leave," 20-year-old protester Ahmed Mohamed said. "They are harassing us in our own country. The government is imposing the Ethiopians on us."
A hospital source, speaking before the shooting incident, said at least five civilians were hurt.
The interim government had given Mogadishu residents until last Thursday to hand in their weapons or be disarmed by force.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told local radio today the disarmament program had been postponed. Few weapons have been handed in as locals wait to see if the government can impose the relative stability experienced under the SICC.
President Abdullahi Yusuf was due to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who says his troops will leave the Horn of Africa country within two weeks, government officials said.
The SICC had controlled much of southern Somalia after ousting warlords from Mogadishu in June, but have been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds in two weeks of open warfare.
Five Somali MPs Arrested in City Estate Crackdown
The Nation (Nairobi)
January 6, 2007
By Francis Thoya and Edmund Kwena
Five Somali MPs alleged to be supporting the ousted Islamists were yesterday arrested in a major swoop in Nairobi's Eastleigh estate.
Those arrested were in a list of 26 wanted Somalis who were being hunted by police and immigration officers in an operation that was extended to other areas within the city .
The morning incident that caught many by surprise was conducted by the Immigration Department backed by police.
Some of those arrested were taken to the Immigration offices at Nyayo House where they were interrogated.
However, as the Government extended its crackdown on suspected members of the Islamic Courts Union of Somalia and their alleged sympathisers, members of the Muslim community held a press conference at Jamia Mosque in Nairobi and asked the Government to allow genuine Somali refugees fleeing the conflict in their country to enter Kenya unconditionally.
Soon after the arrests, Immigration assistant minister Anania Mwaboza said the Government believed the arrested Somalis had information that could lead to the arrest of the Islamists.
In Eastleigh, seven immigration officers and 20 Administration Police officers raided several hotels in the Somali-dominated estate where they arrested the five MPs.
The MPs were reported to have checked into two hotels in the area over the last one month. Also arrested were some Somali businessmen said to be holding foreign passports.
The arrests came two days after Kenya closed its border with Somalia and announced a 24-hour military patrol from North eastern Province to the coastline to bar asylum seekers from entering the country.
Among the establishments raided by police included Barakat Hotel and Al-Safaa Hotel, all located in Eastleigh.
A Barakat Hotel manager , Mr Aden Issack, said immigration officers armed with a list visited the hotel and apprehended two people who had described themselves as Somali MPs.
"Those arrested included a woman and a man. The Immigration Department appears to have been aware they were at the hotel as the moment they got in, they went straight to the rooms the visitors were occupying " Mr Issack said.
Before the Barakat Hotel raid, the immigration officers conducted a swoop at the Al-Safaa Hotel, where they arrested an MP who checked into the hotel a month ago.
According to the hotel manager, Mr Abdulhakim Jele Abdi, the MP and three other people he identified as businessmen were arrested and taken to the immigration office at Nyayo House.
"I went with them to the Immigration Department where they were required to disclose when and how they had entered the country," Mr Abdi said.
There was drama at the Al-Safaa Hotel when a private guard attempted to block the immigration and police team from gaining access to the hotel. Witnesses said the APs confronted the man with kicks and blows before arresting him.
In other developments, at least three companies of the Kenya Army artillery regiment arrived at Kiunga off the Lamu coastline from where they are monitoring the tense border with Somalia.
Sources who are in constant touch with the border area through radio said the soldiers arrived there on Thursday. Their Kenya Navy counterparts are anchored near the area in the Indian Ocean.
"There are at least three companies of both the Kenya Army and Kenya Navy patrolling the area but there has not been any incident so far," a source said on telephone from Lamu. A company has 127 soldiers who include officers and men.
Previously the area was being monitored by officers from the General Service Unit as well as Regular and Administration policemen.
The source said many of the solders had been airlifted to the region because of the bad road but others were driven in off-road armoured personnel carriers.
Apart from the 200 women and children who attempted to cross to Kenya through the border town of Kiamboni on Tuesday but were refused entry, no other refugees had arrived in the area.
The area is also being monitored by officers from the Kenya Anti-Terrorism Unit, while a US ship is docked near Ishakani on the Lamu coastline.
Senior Islamists Linger in Yemen
Shabelle Media Network (Mogadishu)
January 6, 2007
By Aweys Osman Yusuf
Somalia's Islamist leaders are reportedly in Yemen to hold talks with Yemeni officials over their defeat in Somalia.
Yemeni foreign monster Dr. Abu-Bakar al-Qurabi has revealed that senior Islamist members have come to his country. He said they came to Yemen to hold talks with the officials. "They are here to talk with the government officials over the foreign military occupation in Somalia," he said.
According to Al-Khaleej newspaper, Qurabi said it would be an opportunity for the Islamists to negotiate with the transitional government. The minister did not specify the names of the individuals that arrived in Yemen.
He also pointed out that his government was determined to mediate Somalia's challenging parties.
Thousands of Ethiopian troops backing the Somali government forces ousted the Islamic Courts from the capital and most parts in the country that used to be under their control in a heavy battle that took two weeks.
The news comes as Musse Sudi Yalahow, a warlord, has returned to Mogadishu after nearly six months of absence. US backed warlords were defeated in a fierce battle by the failed ICU that is on the run in early June last year.
Iraq-style insurgency urged on Somalis
By Andrew England in Cairo
January 5 2007 17:19
Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command on Friday urged members of a Somali Islamist movement to launch an Iraq-style insurgency against Ethiopian troops to “wipe them out”.
In an audiotape purportedly by Ayman al-Zawahiri described the Ethiopian soldiers as a crusader invasion force and called on the Islamists to “ambush, mine, raid and [carry out] martyrdom campaigns.”
Ethiopia, an important regional US ally, has thousands of troops in Somalia backing that country’s weak transitional government. Its forces launched a rapid offensive against the Islamist movement, which had controlled much of southern Somalia, forcing it to flee all its major strongholds during the last two weeks.
However, the Islamists have vowed to fight on with a guerrilla campaign, and it is unclear what state the Islamists’ forces are in and whether they have been genuinely defeated. There have also been concerns that any insurgency could attract foreign militants – Somalia is a Muslim nation with one of Africa’s longest coastlines, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Aden.
Both Addis Ababa and Washington, which gave its tacit support to Ethiopia’s offensive, accuse the Islamists’ leadership of including and harbouring alleged al-Qaeda members, including three men wanted in connection with the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and the 2002 suicide attack on a Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast.
The Islamist movement that began as an alliance of Islamic courts and was not a monolithic group has denied any links to terrorism. However, a hardline military element, known as the Shabaab, was thought to include extremists.
Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, is awash with weapons and has been plagued by 15 years of lawlessness.
On Friday, African and western officials, including Jendayi Frazer, US assistant secretary of state for Africa, met Abdullahi Yusuf, the Somali president, in Nairobi to discuss peacekeeping options and support for the transitional administration, which is deeply unpopular in many areas and has had little influence since it was formed two years ago.
Ms Frazer said Washington would provide $40m to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, while the EU said it would help finance a force envisioned at 8,000 troops.
“If international support is to be effective, it is essential an inclusive process of political dialogue and reconciliation...be launched without delay,” the diplomats said in a joint statement.
Without Ethiopian support, the transitional government would struggle to survive. But a peacekeeping force is likely to take weeks to put together. The only country that has indicated it would be willing to contribute troops is Uganda, and a mandate and logistical issues still have to be worked out.
Addis Ababa has said it plans to withdraw its forces within weeks, but there are fears that an Ethiopian pull-out could leave a vacuum and the resumption of rule by warlords and clan-based violence. But the longer they stay, the greater the chance the Ethiopians will be seen as an occupying force.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
US helps contain Somalia’s Islamist forces
By Stephen Fidler and William Wallis in London
January 4 2007 18:35
A US-led naval task force off the Somali coast has been boarding ships in recent days as part of efforts to prevent Islamist militants fleeing the country.
The task force is taking part in a broader US military effort to stop Islamist fighters in Somalia moving into neighbouring countries following a rout by Ethiopian forces. Kenya has officially closed its border with Somalia on in an effort to stem the transit of militants, officials said.
The US has offered tacit support to the Ethiopian-led offensive in support of Somalia’s transitional government and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, hailed the military victory as a “historic opportunity” for the war-ravaged country.
The US has also said that it is determined to prevent terrorists escaping from the aftermath of the fighting.
“We...are going to be working closely with states in the region to ensure that these individuals aren’t able to transit those borders and exit Somalia,” Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, said on Wednesday.
Officials from Europe, the US, Africa and the Middle East are due to meet in Nairobi on Friday to discuss deployment of a peacekeeping force for the region.
Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president said on Thursday at a joint news conference in Addis Ababa with Meles Zenawi, Ethiopian prime minister, that Uganda is ready to provide peacekeepers for the force. “The troops are ready but I have to consult the speaker of parliament. As soon as parliament approves, they will be sent to Somalia,” he said.
Earlier Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state who was also visiting Ethiopia, said Mr Museveni had promised to provide between 1,000 and 2,000 soldiers. She hoped a peacekeeping force could be ready by the end of the month.
Mr Zenawi has pressed for the rapid deployment of peacekeepers, seen by international and regional diplomats as providing an exit strategy for Ethiopia.
Ethiopian officials said fighting with Islamists continued in Somalia’s southern tip on Thursday, near the Kenyan border. The US ships are operating in international waters off the Somali coast. A spokeswoman for US Central Command said that while a number of boardings had taken place she could not confirm that any individuals had been apprehended.
A Kenyan official was quoted by AFP saying that four Ethiopian helicopters, operating on information from a US satellite, had attacked three vehicles possibly carrying Islamist leaders close to the Kenyan border. The individuals apparently escaped, and US officials could not be reached to confirm any American role.
A separate US-led task force has been operating out of Djibouti since 2003 with more than 1,500 military and civilian personnel aimed at helping countries in the Horn of Africa to deal with terrorism. The force has provided military help to Ethiopia to bolster its ability to protect its border and ports.
However, a spokeswoman said that the “internationally recognised” transitional government of Somalia had not invited US forces into the country and no US troops were operating there.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Invading Somalia is no recipe for stability
January 4 2007 00:25
There were essentially two reasonable choices to be made about Somalia prior to Ethiopia’s devastating invasion last month and what looks like the temporary rout of the Islamist alliance that had taken charge of the south and centre of the country.
One was to do nothing and let the Islamists, grouped in the Union of Islamic Courts, get on with it. In the six months they were in control, after all, they provided the first, rough semblance of order since the 1991 collapse of the dictatorship of Mohammed Siad Barre plunged the country into a long night of anarchy and warlordism.
The second, complementary option was to see whether it was possible to do business with the Islamists, whose legitimacy among Somalis was certainly no less than that of the largely theoretical but internationally recognised transitional government Ethiopia claims to have intervened to support.
What we have instead is an invasion, backed by the US, behind a government with no apparent social base. If the Ethiopians stay they risk uniting much of Somalia against them. If they go, as they say they soon will, they will leave a political vacuum, with Somalia’s well-armed clans scrabbling over the carcass of the country. Eventually, it will almost certainly be the more disciplined but now radicalised Islamists that end up holding the ring.
We are, in short, looking at yet another geopolitical disaster, which could spread fighting across the Horn of Africa, a region at the crossroads of the Middle East and Africa that is already blighted by floods and drought, famine and desertification, with a long history of conflict. To the north, Ethiopia’s arch-rival, Eritrea, is already sending arms to the Islamists, while, to the south, the fighting has reached the borders of north-east Kenya.
Admittedly, Somalia has presented peculiar difficulties since it imploded as a state 15 years ago. Its people emerged shattered from colonialism. Although among the most homogeneous in Africa, with the same language and Muslim religion and largely from the same ethnic group, they have built their identities around six rival clans and tributaries of feuding sub-clans.
One can see moreover, why Somalia presses so many American buttons. As a failed state in transition from warlords’ rule to an Islamist emirate, it resembles Afghanistan. The humiliation of the failed US intervention in Mogadishu in 1993 – the Black Hawk Down episode – ranks with the headlong retreat of US marines from Beirut a decade earlier. A quick, ostensible victory must also have looked very tempting for a Bush administration responsible for the debacle in Iraq.
Washington claims the Union of Islamic Courts is allied to al-Qaeda. That looks as doubtful as the recent record of US intelligence. Certainly, the Islamist alliance has its extremists. Their influence and audience is now set to grow exponentially. And Somalia could indeed become a new magnet for and incubator of jihadi terrorism – just as Iraq did after the US invasion.
This invasion is not the answer to Somalia’s problems. Whatever the intentions of Addis Ababa and the increasingly assertive government of Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian leader, his country is too poor and, with very long borders, too porous to stay in Somalia.
The transitional government, by itself, lacks all credibility. It was created in Nairobi and confined, until last month’s invasion, to Baidoa, close to Ethiopia’s border. It never asserted its authority; its prime minister, Ali Mohammed Gedi, does not even command the support of his sub-clan.
The Islamist alliance was able to restore order in Mogadishu and even open the ports. Its methods are brutal but Sharia law is widely accepted and, in current conditions, welcomed in Somalia. The Islamists, moreover, are not going away. Their retreat looks like the tactical prelude to guerrilla war.
The future looks bleak unless an understanding is reached between the Islamists and the transitional government, with Ethiopian troops replaced by some stabilising force. That probably has to come from the United Nations, in conjunction with the African Union. Neither organisation has covered itself in glory recently, in Sudan or Somalia, and both are overstretched. But the price of failure in the Horn of Africa will be high indeed.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007