Friday, May 22, 2009

Somalia News Update: Deadly Clashes in Mogadishu; Eritrea President Refutes US-backed Allegations; Youth Pleads Not Guilty in New York Court

Friday, May 22, 2009
10:51 Mecca time, 07:51 GMT

Deadly clashes in Somali capital

More than 100 people have died and 46,000 displaced as the fighting continues to escalate

Somali government forces have attacked opposition fighters in southern Mogadishu, killing at least five people in an attempt to drive rebels from the capital.

Witnesses said four members of Somalia's al-Shabab group had been killed and a journalist from Shabelle Radio, a local independent station, was also killed in the crossfire.

Farhan Mahdi, a Somali military spokesman said: "This is a large military offensive against violent people.

"The government will sweep them out of the capital and the fighting will continue until that happens."

The government has claimed that it has regained control of three areas of the capital - Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag - since the battles began before dawn.

Al-Shabab has denied the claims.

Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage, a spokesman with al-Shabab, said: "The enemy of Allah attacked our positions this morning and our fighters are defending themselves.

"They have not not taken any positions from us."

Reporters confirmed that several bodies had been left on the ground and eight civilians had been injured while trying to escape.

The government says it is unlikely that negotiations with al-Shabab will prove fruitful.

In the past 10 days, more than 100 people have died and 46,000 have been displaced as the fighting continues to escalate.

For 18 years groups have fought against the government, the most recent led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who was elected president in January under UN-sponsored talks.

Earlier this week an East African group called on the United Nations to impose an aerial and maritime blockade to prevent the rebels from acquiring more weapons.

Source: Agencies

Somalia: U.S. Conducting High-Level Strategic Review of Strategy

Jim Fisher-Thompson
21 May 2009

In Somalia, the U.S. government is determined to support the policy of political reconciliation spearheaded by the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told Congress May 20.

Speaking two weeks after his confirmation by the Senate, Carson told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs that "the collapse of the TFG would be detrimental to the long-term stability of Somalia."

The Obama administration is working on "a comprehensive solution" to the ongoing crisis in Somalia, Carson said, that "provides stability and promotes reconciliation, economic opportunity and hope for the Somali people."

Along with strengthening the TFG, Carson said, eliminating terrorist threats, addressing the dire humanitarian situation and eliminating piracy are priority goals.

Carson said various departments of the federal government, including the State Department, Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), were working under the direction of the National Security Council (NSC) "to develop a strategy that is both comprehensive and sustainable." He said he hoped to see the NSC review completed "in the next 30 to 60 days."

Citing a sense of urgency, Carson told lawmakers, "In the past two weeks, violent extremists, including al-Shabaab [designated a terrorist organization by the United States] and a loose coalition of forces under the banner of Hizbul al-Islam have been attacking TFG forces and other moderates in Mogadishu."

But despite the assaults, Carson said, "the TFG remains standing and determined to move forward" with help from the United States and other international partners. The U.S. government has provided $10 million in assistance to help Somalia create a national security force.

Carson said the U.S. government is also making substantial contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), whose Ugandan and Burundian peacekeeping forces were deployed to Somalia in 2007. Since then, the United States has contributed $135 million for logistics and equipment for AMISOM and "we plan to continue this level of support in the future," Carson added.

To counter mistrust "generated by al-Shabaab and others," Carson said, "we are working very hard to ... give Somalis a more comprehensive understanding of what the United States is doing and wants to do in Somalia."

"We continue through our public diplomacy efforts to reach out to the media, to talk to people, to issue press statements," Carson said. "I have myself spoken to a number of media groups that have access to Somalia in order to indicate to them that our primary goal is to promote political reconciliation, peace and stability. And that our desire is to see a strong, stable Somalia that we can work with."


Subcommittee Chairman Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said the recent rise in pirate attacks in the region is "an outgrowth of [Somalia's] collapse, lawlessness and economic desperation that have plagued the country for over a decade." Feingold has called for more U.S. involvement in the Horn of Africa, and has proposed the Obama administration appoint a special envoy for the region.

Carson said that as part of the NSC-led Somalia strategic review, the U.S. government will examine its strategy on piracy.

Touching on Eritrea, a backer of forces battling the TFG, Carson said, "We have clear evidence that Eritrea is supporting ... extremist elements, including credible reports that the government of Eritrea continues to supply weapons and munitions to extremists and terrorist elements."

Responding to inquiries from Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, over what role foreign fighters and terrorist groups are playing in the country, Carson said, "We don't know the precise nationalities of these foreign fighters or their political affiliation, but we do have a growing body of information passed on to us that there clearly are foreign fighters operating in Somalia." He added that claims of up to 400 foreign fighters in Somalia were "a significant exaggeration."

Carson said there was "clear evidence" that al-Qaida has a presence in the country. "A small number of al-Qaida operatives have worked closely with al-Shabaab leaders in Somalia, where they enjoy safe haven," he said.

Carson told the Senate panel, "This further underscores the importance of urgent and decisive support to the TFG and engagement with states across the region and beyond."

Somalia: Eritrean President Condemns AU Troops in Mogadishu

Ahmednor Mohamed Farah
20 May 2009

Mogadishu — Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki who gave an exclusive interview with Shabelle television and radio condemned the African Union troops in Mogadishu and said they could not keep peace in Somalia.

Speaking with Shabelle Media Network in his office in Asmara, President Afwerki said Ugandan and Burundian troops in Mogadishu came as an umbrella of Ethiopian invasion.

"The Ugandan and Burundian troops came as an umbrella for the invasion of Ethiopia which was supported by Bush administration which is illegitimate in the first palace, the invading power can not possibly have any legitimacy from the adopted resolutions of IGAD and AU," Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki told Shabelle television and radio.

"Uganda can not send peace keepers to Somalia when it can not maintain peace and security in Uganda, it is not well equipped and it has its own domestic problems," he added.

Mr. Afwerki said foreign troops could not bring solution to Somalia and called for the AU mission in Somalia to end their presence in Mogadishu.

Afwerki said Burundian troops could not keep security and stability in Mogadishu.

"The government in Burundi can not secure peace and stability in Bujumbura, the capital. How can we expect Burundi to send peace keepers to Somalia and claim keep peace in Mogadishu?", President Afwerki said.

He denied that Eritrea has been playing proxy war in Somalia and described as baseless accusations.

Noting that the solution lies in addressing the root cause, and not the consequences. President Isaias indicated that "so-called governments" imposed on the Somali people from the outside which has no authority beyond Mogadishu and its vicinity is further aggravating the problem.

INTERVIEW-Eritrea sees CIA behind Somalia arms accusations

Thu May 21, 2009 5:04am EDT

President says CIA agents spreading lies
Opposes indictment against Sudan's president

By Andrew Cawthorne

ASMARA, May 21 (Reuters) - Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki said renewed accusations that Asmara is arming Somalia's Islamist rebels was the work of CIA agents in the region bent on blackening his government's name.

"We don't interfere (in Somalia) and we don't want to see any terrorism prevail in Somalia," Isaias told Reuters.

Somalia's government has accused Eritrea of supporting al Shabaab insurgents with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

To the anger of Asmara -- which says there is no evidence in accusations that have been around for several years -- the U.N. has ordered a probe and east African bloc IGAD wants sanctions on Eritrea including a no-fly zone.

"It's CIA operatives ... these people are liars," Isaias, a former rebel commander in power since 1991, said during an interview at Asmara's colonial-era presidential palace.

"This is a continuation of the old story. I know for sure, even the individuals behind these things. I don't want to talk about that because it would poison the whole mood."

Former U.S. president George W. Bush's government had threatened to put Eritrea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Isaias said old interest groups were still jostling for influence with President Barack Obama.

He said Asmara would wait to see the impact of the Bush-Obama transition, and what he termed a bigger historical transition of U.S. economic ties and international attitudes.

"It is too early to judge," Isaias said, acknowledging that Washington had bigger priorities than his country.

"Eritrea is not a big deal. I don't expect the United States and officials in Washington will be sitting there and talking about how they formulate their policies with Eritrea.

"This is a transition, a very difficult transition. We need to be patient. It may take a long time."

Isaias said the new government of Somalia -- the 15th attempt to restore central rule in the last 18 years -- looked doomed to fail because it was imposed from outside.

"Leave this for the Somalis," he said.

President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, became Somalia's latest president earlier this year in a peace process in Djibouti brokered by the United Nations.

"This is the mentality of a gambler," Isaias said of the repeated attempts to set up a transitional Somali government with Western backing.

"This so-called government is not a government in terms of legitimacy. It cannot even influence one very small neighbourhood in Mogadishu, let alone Somalia."


Risking further criticism from the West, Eritrea was in March the first country to receive Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir after the International Criminal Court indicted him on accusations of war crimes in Darfur.

Isaias, like other African leaders, said the case was politically motivated and risked further destabilising Sudan.

"Whether he is guilty until proven innocent, or innocent until proven guilty, is another matter. It is a legal matter. That is an issue for extensive discussion," he said.

"It is purely a political case, it has no legality at all ... It doesn't serve any purpose for the people of Darfur."

Isaias said the West was not showing the same clamour for justice in other places, such as Sri Lanka.

"The government did not allow journalists to go there, they did not allow relief agencies to even operate freely in that very small area," he said of recent events in Sri Lanka where the army wiped out Tamil Tiger rebels.

"The casualties on civilians were huge. No one intervened."

Eritrea's long-running border dispute with Ethiopia, where the two lost tens of thousands of men in a 1998-2000 war, has taken a back seat in the headlines of late, with no reports of clashes and rhetoric quieter on both sides.

Asked if that meant Eritrea could scale down its army and use resources elsewhere, Isaias shook his head and shot back: "Never relax."

"I will never take any risk ... We retain the allocation of our resources in spite of the bitterness we have about it. We have no other option, unless we fully guarantee and see things have changed for good."

Thursday, May 21, 2009
14:53 Mecca time, 11:53 GMT

Africa bloc urges Eritrea sanctions

About 45,000 Somalis have been displaced in the past two weeks

A bloc of east African nations has called on the United Nations to impose sanctions on Eritrea, saying the country is backing fighters attempting to overthrow the government in neighbouring Somalia.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) held emergency talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss the surge in violence in Somalia.

Igad urged the UN security council to impose a no-fly zone and a blockade on sea ports "to prevent the further in-flow of arms and foreign fighters" into Somalia.

"The government of Eritrea and its financiers continue to instigate, finance, recruit, train, fund and supply the criminal elements in and/or to Somalia," Igad said in a statement on Wednesday.

"[We call on] the UN security council to impose sanctions on the government of Eritrea without any further delay."

Igad is made up of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Eritrea suspended its membership in 2007, blaming the bloc for failing to bring peace to the region.

'Grave situation'

Mahboub Mahlim, the Igad secretary-general, told the meeting that the region had failed support the interim Somali government, calling the security situation "very grave".

"It is no longer a war between Somalis, but a war against Somalia, a war against all of us," he said during the talks.

Accusations of Eritrean interference in Somalia has been around for several years, and the UN has ordered an inquiry.

Somalia's government has accused Eritrea of supporting al-Shabab with plane-loads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean president, denies the claims, saying it was the work of CIA agents in the region bent on blackening his government's name.

"We don't interfere [in Somalia] and we don't want to see any terrorism prevail in Somalia," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

"It's CIA operatives ... these people are liars."

Fierce fighting

Armed groups, including al-Shabab, have gained ground during two weeks of Somalia's fiercest fighting for months.

Local human rights workers say the clashes have killed at least 175 civilians and wounded more than 500. About 45,000 others have been displaced.

Jean Ping, the head of the African Union, attended the Igad meeting and renewed calls for a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force in Somalia.

The situation is "deteriorating ... due to an unprecedented level of violence in Mogadishu," Ping said.

A UN security council delegation over the weekend said conditions have not yet been met for deploying UN peacekeepers in Somalia.

Ethiopian troops, which entered Somalia in 2006 to support the government, announced their withdrawal earlier this year.

But on Tuesday, residents said they saw Ethiopian troops in armoured vehicles patrolling a Somali border town.

Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia's foreign minister, denied reports that soldiers had returned.

"We are not back in Somalia," he said after the Igad meeting.

"We don't intend to go to Somalia unilaterally. We will continue to follow up developments and do everything possible that this legitimate and sovereign government of Somalia is supported and assisted."

Mesfin warned against delayed intervention to help the weak interim government.

"Extremists are not interested in peace. Their agenda has nothing to do with the stabilisation of Somalia. Their plans are going beyond Somalia," he said, adding their leaders "are making it clear that their objectives are not limited to Somalia."

Source: Agencies

Accused Somali pirate pleads not guilty in NY court

Thu May 21, 2009 2:08pm EDT

Pirate suspect enters plea through interpreter

Lawyers seek witnesses to say he is a juvenile (Adds detail throughout)

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) - A Somali teenager accused of holding a U.S. ship captain hostage in the Indian Ocean after an attempted hijacking pleaded not guilty on Thursday to 10 charges, including piracy and kidnapping.

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the sole surviving accused pirate from the foiled bid to hijack the huge U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama, entered his plea at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The slightly built Muse, who prosecutors said acted as the leader of the pirates, appeared in court in a prison uniform and entered his plea in a quiet voice through an interpreter.

His lawyers told the court that he needed an operation for his hand that was injured during the attack, and had been granted little contact with his mother and family in Somalia since being held in U.S. custody.

Prosecutors and representatives for Muse disagree about his age. Outside the courthouse, lawyers said they were looking for witnesses in Somalia to prove Muse is a juvenile after a judge ruled in April he is aged 18 and would be tried as an adult.

The defense lawyers said they had difficulty communicating with Muse and he did not understand why he had been given medication. They said they could not reveal what the medication was for.

"It's heart-wrenching. He is confused," said one of his lawyers, Deirdre von Dornum.

She said Muse was just "a boy who fishes and now he has ended up in solitary confinement here so it is a truly terrifying situation."

According to the indictment, Muse threatened the captain of the ship, Richard Phillips, with a firearm and then, using a radio to communicate with U.S. representatives, "threatened to kill the captain unless his demands were satisfied."

Phillips was held hostage on a lifeboat for several days after he volunteered to go with the pirates in exchange for the crew. He was rescued when U.S. Navy snipers killed three pirates and captured Muse.

Muse also is charged with seizing a ship by force, possession of a machine gun and hostage taking. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. The next hearing was set for Sept. 17.

Somali advocates in the United States say Muse is unfairly being made an example of to pirates around the world.

Idd Mohamed, the Somali deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters Thursday he believed the U.S. system was was fair and transparent.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott)

Italy to host ICG meeting on Somalia on June 9-10

Thu May 21, 2009 12:29pm EDT

ROME, May 21 (Reuters) - Italy will host a June 9-10 meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia to discuss ways of stabilising the country and tackling piracy off the Horn of Africa, the foreign ministry said.

The meeting will be chaired by the United Nations' special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and will also be attended by Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar.

Italy made no mention of any opposition representatives attending the meeting.

The ICG is a multi-nation group trying to broker peace in the eastern African country.

The Rome meeting is aimed at helping Somalia consolidate its fragile U.N.-backed government, which is battling Islamist insurgents, Italian Minister Franco Frattini has said.

Forces loyal to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Somalia's first Islamist president, control only parts of the coastal capital and Somalia's central region.

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