Thursday, December 07, 2006

PANW Dispatch: Somalis Warned UN Over Intervention; Nigeria Oil Unrest; Chad Media Strike; Libya's Medics Case

Somalia on knife-edge as Islamists warn of wider conflict after UN force approval

Somalia's powerful Islamists have warned that a UN Security Council decision to deploy peacekeepers will multiply "the number of graves" in the country as it threatened to step up a conflict against the weak Somali government.

As the country teetered on the brink of an all-out war, Islamic forces exchanged heavy artillery fire with rival militia, backed by Ethiopian forces in central Somalia, killing at least one pro-government fighter and wounding others, commanders said.

"The decision to bring foreign troops into Somalia will spark a new crisis in Somalia. I tell you that this UN endorsement will massively increase casuality figures and the number of graves in this country," Islamist movement spokesman Sheikh Abdurahim Muddey told AFP on Thursday.

"This resolution is one-sided and we have already made clear our position on it. Again we say that we will never accept the deployment of foreign troops ... We will make sure that we make good our warning," he added.

The Islamist's deputy security chief, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, called the Council "an American stooge" which he said was advancing Washington's sinister schemes.

"Let America do whatever it wants, everything the UN approves is an aggression against us and we are ready to defend our religion and land against enemy invasion," Robow said.

"We tell the peacekeepers that ahead of them are hand-propelled grenades and other artillery," he explained. "We promised to fight until we die and that promise is still alive today."

Muddey spoke hours after the Security Council unanimously authorized the deployment of east African peacekeepers in Somalia and eased a 14-year-old arms embargo, despite vehement opposition from the Islamists and some countries in the region.

The Somali government, which has been further weakened by infighting, called for the immediate deployment of the force.

"We hope that the resolution will be implemented to the letter because it is very important and crucial to the people of Somalia," Information Minister Ali Jama told AFP from the government seat of Baidoa, the only town held by the internationally backed but largely powerless transitional administration.

Radical Islamic clerics have vowed to wage a jihad, or "holy war", against any foreign troops in Somalia, including those from Ethiopia already in the country to bolster the government.

The UN resolution urged both sides to resume "without delay" peace talks which collapsed last month.

Rival commanders confirmed the midnight clashes in the Islamist-held central Somali town of Bandiradley, about 630 kilometers (395 miles) north of Mogadishu.

"We lost one soldier and they also suffered casualties but I don't know how many," said Hussein Agaf, a commander of government forces from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Witnesses reported rival fighters reinforcing defences, girding for a full-scale conflict.

The two-year-old Somali government, the Islamists and their Ethiopian allies have been bracing for all-out war for weeks in the lawless Horn of Africa nation that many fear could engulf the entire region in a bloody conflict.

Some diplomats and the respected International Crisis Group think tank agree and have called for the 1992 arms embargo to be strengthened as well as for pressure on both sides to return to peace talks.

But the African Union has already endorsed the proposed 8,000-strong force of troops from the seven-nation east African regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

The Security Council said the planned mission should exclude troops from "states that border Somalia", specifically ruling out contributions from Ethiopia and Kenya. Diplomats said Uganda had offered troops.

"We are not classifying foreign forces, let them be from neighboring countries or faraway others, we affirm that we are in the final stage of fighting against any deployed force," Robow added.

There has been no national governing authority in Somalia since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.

There followed 15 years of factional bloodletting that prompted botched military and humanitarian intervention by the UN and the United States in the early 1990s.

Around 140 UN peacekeepers and 18 US special forces were killed in Somalia, prompting the force to withdraw in 1995.

Thursday December 7, 8:32 PM

One killed, four kidnapped at Italian oil facility in Nigeria

At least one person has been killed and four foreigners were kidnapped during an attack by armed assailants against an oil installation belonging to Italian company Agip in southern Nigeria.

"One boy was killed by a stray bullet", he said, adding that he could not comment on the victim's identity or nationality, or say whether he worked on the Agip installation or was one of the assaillants.

"Three Italians and one Lebanese were taken hostage", a Nigerian officer said.

A spokesman for ENI, Agip's Italian parent company, said the attack on an oil pumping station occurred at around 5:00 am at the Brass oilfield in Bayelsa state in the restive Niger Delta region.

The Nigerian officer also said at least one person, "Agip's operations superintendent" was wounded in the attack, but was again unable to comment on the man's nationality.

An official at the foreign ministry crisis cell confirmed one person, who was "not Italian", had been injured. "One person was wounded in the attack," Elisabetta Belloni told the Sky TG 24 television news network.

ENI said it had not received any claim of responsibility.

Lebanese diplomats in Lagos were not able to immediately confirm a national was among those kidnapped.

Since January, separatists and militant groups seeking a larger share of oil wealth for the Niger delta's 14-million strong ethnic Ijaw community have been blamed for a spate of violent attacks on multinational oil firms and their personnel.

On November 22, a British employee of ENI was killed during an assault by Nigerian security forces attempting to rescue him and six other hostages being held by an armed group.

Chad's media on censorship strike

Most independent newspapers in Chad have begun a 15-day strike to protest at censorship introduced last month.
The restrictions were brought in by Idriss Deby's government as part of emergency measures for the next six months after rebel attacks in the east.

But the BBC's Stephanie Hancock in Chad says journalists are furious saying the move is a huge over-reaction.

Rebels launched a campaign earlier this year aimed at deposing President Deby who has been in power for 16 years.

Sudan denies claims that it is backing the rebels, some of whom have bases in Sudan's war-torn western region of Darfur.

The government claims that all news items have to be approved before publication or broadcast to prevent inter-ethnic violence from spiralling out of control.

"The government says censorship is necessary because we are apologists for the rebellion, that we just relay what the rebels say," Le Temps newspaper editor Nadjikimo Benoudjita said.

"Now we can't discuss Darfur or the conflict between rebels and government forces, or even some political topics. We cannot even say we are censured."

Several private radio stations have joined the media protest, saying they would not broadcast news for the next three days.

The United Nations says about 90,000 Chadians have been displaced by the recent fighting.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/06 17:39:26 GMT

Study backs Libya HIV case medics

Scientists have cast doubt on charges that five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor deliberately infected Libyan children with HIV.

The medics could face the death penalty if found guilty by a court in Tripoli later this month.

An international team analysed samples taken from the infected patients.

Writing in Nature, they said their work showed the HIV subtype involved began infecting patients in Libya well before the medical workers arrived in 1998.

An initial trial condemned the medics to death in 2004, but the Libyan Supreme Court overturned the verdicts, and ordered a retrial.

The defendants are accused of knowingly infecting more than 400 children with HIV in the eastern town of Benghazi.

The medics say that they were tortured into giving false confessions.

The first trial lasted almost six years, and the medics have been in jail since 1999.

They say the children were infected through poor hygiene - and a body of scientific work supports their claims.

History of outbreak

The researchers worked on blood samples collected by a network of European clinical research centres that are involved in treating the infected children.

By analysing mutations in the genetic material of the HIV virus found in the samples they were able to reconstruct the history of the outbreak.

Lead researcher Dr Tulio de Oliveira, from Oxford University, said: "All the lines of scientific evidence point in the same direction, towards a long standing infection control problem at the hospital, dating back to the mid 1990s or earlier."

Dr Thomas Leitner, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has provided forensic evidence in many HIV cases.

Writing in Nature, he said the latest research was "compelling evidence that the outbreak had started before the accused could have started it."

There has been mounting international pressure on Libya to hear independent scientific evidence.

International experts say the scientific report used in the trial was nothing but 'conjecture' and 'supposition'.

Last month 114 Nobel Laureates wrote an open letter to Colonel Gaddafi urging the appropriate authorities to hear independent science-based evidence, and reaffirming the need for a fair trial.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/06 18:01:12 GMT

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