Somalis are not willing to give up their arms despite an American-backed invasion of the Horn of Africa nation. The US Navy is directly involved in the invasion and is capturing Somalis under the guise of apprehending "terrorists."
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
US joins hunt for Islamists as Kenya closes border with Somalia
US naval forces have joined the hunt for Islamist militants with suspected Al-Qaeda ties trying to flee Somalia after being defeated by Ethiopian-backed government troops, a top US official said, as Kenya closed its border with its lawless neighbour.
The US forces, based in Djibouti, were patrolling the seas off Somalia in a bid to capture some leaders of the Islamic Courts movement, including suspected Al-Qaeda agents wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The United States was working closely with Somalia's Horn of Africa neighbours "to ensure that these individuals aren't able to transit those borders," he said in Washington, without providing details of the US deployment.
Kenya's Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju meanwhile said his country had closed its border with Somalia to prevent an influx of weapons and fighters.
The closure, which came a day after Ethiopian helicopters bombed a Kenyan position by mistake, left thousands of would-be refugees stranded on the Somali side.
Kenyan police prevented aid workers from reaching refugee reception centres and forcefully escorted at least 700 people in northern and coastal regions back over the border to Somalia, drawing a protest from the UN refugee agency.
Tuju said that "we are not able to ascertain whether these people are genuine refugees or fighters and therefore it's best that they remain in Somalia."
He insisted that Kenya would not budge on the issue "unless women and children are in danger inside Somalia."
The Islamic Courts movement gained control of much of Somalia after defeating a US-backed warlord alliance in Mogadishu in June, rapidly expanding its territory and imposing strict Sharia law, sparking fears of a Taliban-style takeover of the anarchic country.
But the Islamists have since late last month been driven from their strongholds by a lightning offensive by far superior Ethiopian armed forces backing the two-year-old interim government.
Somalia's government acknowledged Wednesday that it had failed to capture any Islamist leaders who on Monday abandoned their final stronghold, the southern port of Kismayo.
On Tuesday, an Islamist gunman attacked Ethiopians camped in Jilib, north of Kismayo, killing two soldiers, in what was seen as a first incident in a threatened guerrilla campaign.
Somali Information Minister Ali Jama speculated that the Islamists, who deny they have links to Al-Qaeda, might be in a dense forest along the Kenya-Somalia border, but could not give their exact location.
Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said the Islamist leaders would get no amnesty, since "they are accused of terrorism and that is an international crime."
Kenyan police said they were under instructions not to let any one cross the border.
"We have deported around 400 refugees. We put them on lorries and sent them back home," a police commander told AFP. At least 300 others were forced to sail back to Somalia after they were caught trying to enter via the Indian Ocean, police said.
The UN refugee agency has said around 4,000 Somalis were stranded in the Somali town of Dhobley waiting to cross into Kenya.
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said an international panel on Somalia would meet in Kenya on Friday to explore the possibility of deploying a peacekeeping force.
In Mogadishu, a handful of weapons long held by rival clan militias were surrendered in line with a government demand, but it remained to be seen whether authorities could enforce disarmament after a three-day ultimatum expires on Thursday.
Somalia disintegrated after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. It was carved up among clan warlords, some of whom now back the government.
03/01/2007 21:31:26 UST
Somalians Not Ready to Turn Over Weapons
Everyone in Somalia's capital has a gun _ everyone, that is, but the police
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 3, 2007
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY Associated Press Writer
Ahmed Hassan has no plans to part with his AK-47, the weapon of choice in this notoriously violent city, even now that a legitimate government is functioning here for the first time in more than a decade.
"I won't do it," Hassan said Wednesday, tugging on his gray beard. "For 16 years this country has been in chaos. It would be suicide."
From freelance gunmen on the streets to women selling mangoes by the sea, everybody seems to have a weapon in Mogadishu. Many in the Somali capital say they would rather protect themselves for now than trust the government forces who captured the city from Islamic militants just last week.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has called for residents to turn in all their weapons by Thursday. After that, he said, his forces will "forcibly extract" them.
The country's police commander _ who has only about 1,000 officers under his control, none of them yet in Mogadishu _ admits he's outgunned.
"I cannot say there is a viable police operation in Mogadishu," Ali Mohamed Hassan Loyan told The Associated Press during a trip to a police recruitment center in Mogadishu where about 100 men, most of them older than 50, were signing up. "We are depending on the military."
Gedi has said his military forces, backed by Ethiopian troops with tanks and MiG fighter jets, have neutralized the Islamists over the past two weeks and forced them to give up or scatter into the bush. On Wednesday, the government claimed it captured two more southern towns from the militants and said its forces were headed toward a third.
In Washington Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. Navy vessels were deployed off the coast of Somalia looking for al-Qaida and other militants allied with the Islamists who may be trying to escape.
Ethiopia has promised to withdraw its troops from Somalia as soon as possible, and many Somalis fear that when they do, there will be a power vacuum and even a return to the anarchy and warlord rule of the past.
Somalia's last effective central government fell in 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but has been weakened by internal rifts.
The intervention of Ethiopia late last month prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for the government, which is seeking international peacekeepers to help restore order.
In the meantime, the Bakaara Market in downtown Mogadishu is doing brisk business in weapons. The market is a network of narrow, dusty streets, with rickety wooden stands selling Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns and hand grenades.
By Wednesday, only a handful of people had heeded Gedi's demand and turned in any weapons. Twenty freelance militiamen turned in 20 small guns and a "technical" _ a truck mounted with machine guns.
"I got tired working for my clan," said Mohamed Mohamud Hassan, the militia's leader. "Now I can work for the nation."
But those arms barely register in Somalia's ocean of guns.
"Nobody wants to totally surrender their weapons," said Sacida Gedi Hassan, a merchant at Bakaara. "If we hand over our weapons, we'll be vulnerable."
Loyan, the police commander, said safety isn't the only reason for disarmament. His forces are so desperate, he said, they will eventually need to commandeer the weapons now hidden away in Mogadishu's homes and businesses.
"During the civil war, the guns spread throughout the country," said Loyan, who returned to Mogadishu last week for the first time since 1991. "Now we just need to find them. We are going to have to use the guns that we collect."
His police force is not up to the task just yet.
"As you can see, these are very old people," Loyan said at the recruitment center, gazing at the rag tag crowd over his wire-rimmed glasses. "Even women are here."
Madino Mohamed Farge, 46, said she's joining the police because she wants a job _ an impossible dream under the Council of Islamic Courts, the radical militia the government chased from the capital and much of southern Somalia.
"Of course I couldn't work under the Islamic courts," she said. "We were hated by them."
The Islamic group's strict interpretation of Islam drew comparisons to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, although many Somalis credited the council with bringing a semblance of order to the country.
The Council of Islamic Courts terrified residents into submission with the threat of public executions and floggings. And now that it's on the run, the group is threatening an Iraq-style guerrilla war using fighters they claim are hiding in Mogadishu.
Islamic courts spokesman Abdirahin Ali Mudey suggested this week that his forces might use the abundance of available weaponry to disrupt any attempts to pacify the city.
"Somalia has weapons everywhere, and we are everywhere in the country," he said.
That alarming prospect is yet another reason residents don't want to give up their guns, and even the police commander can understand.
"The people must have confidence they are safe," Loyan said. "Then, I think, they will hand over their weapons."
US Navy patrols Somalia's coast
US naval forces have deployed off the Somali coast to prevent leaders of defeated Islamist militias escaping.
Kenya has also significantly tightened border security to stop an influx of fleeing fighters, as aid agencies called for help for genuine refugees.
Uganda's president is to travel to Ethiopia to discuss forming an African force to stabilise the country.
A two-week advance by Ethiopian troops swept the Islamist militias from areas they had controlled for six months.
The militias - known as the Union of Islamic Courts - had brought a degree of stability to large areas of the formerly lawless country.
But Ethiopia accuses them of al-Qaeda links, and sent heavily-armed troops into Somalia to back up forces loyal to the weak transitional government.
Islamists say their retreat from the troops is tactical and have threatened to launch an insurgency.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed the deployment of navy ships.
"We would be concerned that no leaders who were members of the Islamic Courts which have ties to terrorist organisations including al-Qaeda are allowed to flee and leave Somalia," he said.
Kenya has deployed tanks and helicopters on its border, as militias fleeing south clashed near the border with Somali and Ethiopian troops.
Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju told a news conference that the border was closed, but government spokesman Alfred Mutua later told the BBC that legitimate refugees were being allowed entry.
"We are conducting very thorough and rigorous security vetting to ensure that we don't get people coming in carrying weapons, people coming in who are Islamists," he said.
"And so that is causing delays, but we are making sure that everyone who comes in as a refugee... we are driving them to a camp within Kenya which is run by the United Nations."
Mr Mutua denied reports that 600 Somali refugees, mainly women and children, had been deported from the border transit camp at Liboi.
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said they had been denied access to the camp by Kenyan authorities, but witnesses had reported Somalis being deported in government trucks.
UNHCR head Antonio Guterres said in a statement that deserving Somali civilians should be entitled to seek asylum in Kenya.
'Inclusive political process'
On Wednesday, Ethiopian and Somali government forces captured the border town of Doble, one of the final places held by the Islamist militias. Four thousands refugees were reported to be stranded in the area.
Between 600 and 700 militia fighters fled the town on Tuesday night, a BBC correspondent said.
Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi has said that he believes the bulk of the fighting is over.
Attention is now focusing on how to stabilise the country.
After European members of the Somali Contact group met in Brussels, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called for peace talks.
"There has to be a withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces. There has to be a political process, an inclusive political process in Somalia."
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is due in Ethiopia on Thursday for talks on a possible African peacekeeping force for Somalia. He has already offered to commit 1,000 troops.
Thursday is also the deadline for Somalis in the capital to hand in their weapons, but slow progress has been made so far.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/01/04 01:28:40 GMT
African press frets about Somalia
The announcement that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is travelling to Ethiopia to discuss the possible dispatch of peacekeeping troops to Somalia is greeted with concern in a discussion forum on a Ugandan press website.
Such a deployment is seen as irresponsible and beyond Uganda's means, considering the problems it has within its own borders.
Papers in Ethiopia and Kenya urge the international community to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) quickly before chaos takes over again in Somalia.
MIKE AZIZ ON UGANDA'S NEW VISION DISCUSSION FORUM
The pathetic part is, all these African leaders sit on their butt, and do nothing... Sending troops now will be irresponsible, considering our situation at home. Having said that, I also believe that Uganda has a responsibility as member of the world, African community to try its best to intervene to save lives. We first have to look at our capability, how we can respond and get out ASAP.
ABURA VINCENT ON UGANDA'S NEW VISION DISCUSSION FORUM
The Somalia war is not just a simple war per se. The Somalia issue is a global and a regional dynamic, which I think those who want to get involved should analyse thoroughly before burning our own hands... Why can't Uganda first re-organise its own house before pretending to settle the mess in another one's house?
GODFREY IGA ON UGANDA'S NEW VISION DISCUSSION FORUM
Since the aim of the exercise is for some big fellow to eat big, why not send in private armies like our private security firms and pay them directly from the West, then the public will not have to lose any money it can ill afford and the private companies can take the responsibility and be answerable to the families of their employees?
There are a lot of tasks ahead to bring the country to a normal state. The international community has a moral responsibility to back the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to exercise full leadership so as to extricate the country from the upheaval of several years. At the turn of 2007 the Somalis put much hope in the transitional government to reconstruct their country and put an end to conflicts and bloodshed.
Can the transitional government survive and stamp its authority on the capital and country? It is a tough call, but one that the government must overcome if it is to be relevant and if the Islamists and other ragtag armies that cause terror and disruption to daily lives are to be defeated and contained... But the huge task of stabilising Somalia cannot be left solely to Ethiopia. The African Union should come in and help the transition government entrench itself and save the region from the twin challenges of influx of refugees and small arms.
KENYA'S EAST AFRICAN
It will be unpardonable, even criminal, if the Meles Zenawi regime sends the Islamists packing only to leave a vacuum for the warlords, waiting in the wings, to fill. Equally, the international community... must assist the TFG to spread its control beyond Mogadishu and Baidoa by going beyond providing peacekeepers. Infrastructure development, civic authorities - security, public service, immigration - and the general structures of a modern functioning state, however rudimentary, must be put in place.
The danger that lies ahead and what threatens to overturn the Somali government and its allies... is the notion that theirs is a government imposed on the people. If the public sympathy swayed against the TFG, then the marauding militias will simply mutate into new forms of resistance and Somalia would sink into further chaos. It is not too late to engage the militia in peace negotiations to secure a permanent solution to the conflict in Somalia.
BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/01/03 12:15:39 GMT