Saturday, May 23, 2009

Somalia Update: AU Calls for Sanctions Against Eritrea; Lull Prompts Mogadishu Fighting

Punish Eritrea- AU

The African Union has called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Eritrea for supporting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

It is the first time that the AU has called for sanctions against one of its own members.

The organisation has more than 4,000 troops in Somalia supporting the fragile transitional government.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting resumed in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Saturday, reports say.

Government forces launched a fierce counter-attack on Friday in a bid to regain control of parts the city taken by militants.

The BBC's Martin Plaut says the AU's call for sanctions against one of its member states is an unprecedented development.

The AU is normally reticent in any direct criticism of its membership, our correspondent says.

A statement from the 53-member organisation said the UN Security Council should "impose sanctions against all those foreign actors, both within and outside the region, especially Eritrea, providing support to the armed groups".

The AU also calls for the imposition of a no-fly zone and a blockade of sea ports "to prevent the entry of foreign elements into Somalia".

The UN has already expressed concern about the flow of arms into Somalia, where hard-line Islamists of al-Shabab and Hisbul-Islam are battling for control of Mogadishu.

Saturday, May 23, 2009
17:21 Mecca time, 14:21 GMT

Lull prompts Mogadishu flight

More than 49,000 people have fled Mogadishu over the past two weeks as fighting intensifies

Residents are streaming out of Mogadishu, Somalia's main city, taking advantage of a lull in violence as troops battle anti-government fighters.

Intermittent fighting broke out early on Saturday but died down later.

Residents emerged from homes to seek food, or join 49,000 others who have fled Mogadishu in the past two weeks.

"Large number of families started fleeing today from new districts and this will deepen the already worsening humanitarian situation," Ali Yasin Gedi, vice-chairman of Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation, told the Reuters news agency.

Mounting toll

The latest round of clashes left at least 45 people dead on Friday after government forces launched a pre-dawn offensive against al-Shabab, the main anti-government group.

The aim was to drive al-Shabab from their Mogadishu strongholds.

Witnesses said at least four members of al-Shabab and a journalist from Shabelle Radio, a local independent station, were among the victims of Friday's clashes.

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 claimed that it had regained control of three areas of Mogadishu - Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag - as a result of the offensive.

But al-Shabab rejected the claims.

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

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

And Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, al-Shabab's leader, said his forces were still in control.

"It is clear that they have launched an attack on our positions in Mogadishu and also some of the ministers of government said that they have attacked forces on our positions," he said.

"But we won both attacks. We won over their aggression on our forces and we will continue to do so for the will of God."

Under assault

Al-Shabab fighters, along with members of other armed opposition groups, have pledged to topple the government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the president.

Hassan Mahdi, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam, one of the other groups battling the government, said that government forces had struck at its positions too on Friday.

"Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam are counter-attacking ... we have pushed them back in some places. There are casualties, but I can't say how many. We are in the middle of fighting," he said.

The violence unfolded as the government acknowledged that it was unlikely that negotiations with fighters would prove fruitful.

Mohamed Abdi Gandi, the Somali defence minister, said: "We shall continue fighting this opposition with foreign ideologies.

"They want to destroy our government by the use of violence but it will not be."

Earlier this week an East African group called on the UN to impose an aerial and maritime blockade on Somalia to prevent the opposition fighters from acquiring more weapons.

Source: Agencies

No comments: