Friday, January 26, 2007

Somali War Update: 5 Killed in Capital; AU Discusses Peacekeeping, etc.

Gunmen kill 5 in restive Somali capital

MOGADISHU, Somalia - A spate of gunfire and mortar attacks in the Somali capital killed five people overnight and injured at least four others, witnesses said Friday.

An Associated Press reporter saw five bodies in open areas of the city with gunshots to their chests. The motive for the killings was not clear.

Four mortar attacks overnight injured four people, including a 3-year-old girl, said businessman Mohamed Bad Mushani, who was nearby when the shells hit.

Police Commissioner Ali Mohamed Hassan Loyan told the AP the attackers were "hell-bent on undermining the security of the country. The police will track them down."

Somalia has been increasing security this week as Ethiopian troops, whose military strength was crucial to helping Somalia's government drive out a radical Islamic militia, begin withdrawing from the country. It was not clear when the withdrawal would be complete.

Many Somalis resented the Ethiopian presence; their countries fought a war in 1977. But without Ethiopia's tanks and fighter jets, the Somali government could barely assert control outside one town and couldn't enter the capital, Mogadishu, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts. The U.S. has accused the group of having ties to al-Qaida.

On Thursday, gunmen attacked Ethiopian soldiers at a busy market in the southern Somali town of Kismayo, killing one and wounding another and sending screaming residents fleeing the area, witnesses said. Forty people were arrested.

Kismayo, the third-largest city in Somalia, was the last major town held by the Union of Islamic Courts before the Somali government and Ethiopian forces took over.

The withdrawal of Ethiopia, which says it cannot afford to stay in Somalia, raises a sense of urgency for the arrival of a proposed African peacekeeping force. The African Union has approved a plan to send about 8,000 peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N.

Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda have said they want to contribute troops, but no firm plans are in place.

Earlier this month, Ethiopian and U.S. forces were pursuing three top al-Qaida suspects but failed to capture or kill them in an AC-130 strike in the southern part of Somalia. A main target that time was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of three senior al-Qaida members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. Navy also has had forces in waters off the Somali coast, where they have monitored maritime traffic, boarded suspicious ships.

Somalia: Another mortar attack wounds civilians in Mogadishu

Thu. January 25, 2007 02:54 pm.
Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) At least two civilians have been injured in a mortar attack that happened in Wada-jir district in southwest of Somalia capital Mogadishu on later Thursday. It is the second attack in two consecutive days.

Abdikarin Osman, local resident told Somalinet that the attack took place around Macmacanka area in Wadajir district about 8:15 pm tonight local time.

“Shortly after I heard the sounds of explosions I went the area that was hit by two mortar shells, I can confirm that two persons were wounded in the blast,” Osman told Somalinet by the telephone. “The mortars fell into two civilian houses,”

It is not yet clear who carried out the latest attack. It came day after mortar attack targeted at the main Mogadishu airport injuring four civilians.

All these seemed to be acts done by Islamist insurgents that are hiding inside the capital.

After the ouster of the Islamic Courts from the Somalia capital late December last year, the top Islamists vowed to start hit and run attacks on the Ethiopians until they withdraw from the country.

Somalia: Ethiopian soldier killed in Kismayu

Thu. January 25, 2007 09:21 am.
Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) An Ethiopian soldier has been shot dead and other one was wounded on Thursday in ambush attack that in the port city of Kismayu, 500km southern of the Somalia capital Mogadishu.

Witnesses told Somalinet that unidentified gunmen opened fire on two Ethiopian soldiers who were shopping at the market in Kismayu killing one of them and injured the other.

No word yet from the interim government on the latest incident.

Sources say the attackers escaped unharmed heading to unknown destination. Shortly after the accident, the Ethiopian forces sealed off the area tracking down the assailants.

A number of civilians were arrested following the attack. It was the first insurgent attack on the Ethiopians in Kismayu.

The latest attack came as the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reports in Addis Ababa that his forces began withdrawing from Somalia. About 200 Ethiopian soldiers pulled out of Somalia in part three phases departure.

Meles said that Ethiopian forces will remain in Somalia capital until the AU peacekeepers are deployed in the country.

Nigeria: Gov’t agrees to send troops to Somalia

Thu. January 25, 2007 11:35 am.
Bonny Apunyu

(SomaliNet) Nigeria's defence minister said on Wednesday that a battalion of Nigerian soldiers is expected to leave for Somalia in the next two weeks to join a planned African peacekeeping force in the horn of African nation.

After Ethiopian troops complete their pull out from the chaotic Somalia, African Union(AU) wants African states to send about 8 000 peacekeepers to the horn of African nation to reinforce the interim government.

Nigeria’s efence Minister Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi said the Nigerian battalion, which normally contains between 770 and 1 000 troops, is already undergoing training and waiting for supplies and logistics to move into Somalia.

"One battalion is what we are preparing to move immediately for the peacekeeping mission and we hope that within the next two weeks, they will move," Aguiyi-Ironsi told Reuters after a cabinet meeting in Abuja.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council on Wednesday backed the speedy deployment of an African force in Somalia, which has not known peace for 15 years.

Nigeria, a major contributing nation to African peace mission, also has troops in Sudan's Darfur region and Liberia.-Reuters.

South Africa rejects to deploy troops in Somalia

Fri. January 26, 2007 10:17 am
Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) The South African defense ministry said Friday its government would not send troops to Somalia as part of an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in that country.

Sam Mkhwanazi, the SA government spokesman said the ministry of defense would rather study other ways to help stabilize the war-torn country.

“Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota considered that the military was already stretched to capacity by peacekeeping deployments in other countries,” said Mkhwanazi.

South Africa has contributed peace-keeping troops to Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

“We support the AU’s mission in Somalia, but the minister’s view is that to send troops would neither be to the interest of current missions where South Africa is involved nor of the African Union or the United Nations.”

Patrick Mazimhaka, the deputy chairman of the AU, said in an interview published in the Financial Times this week that an opportunity to foster stability in Somalia after years of civil war.

Islamist fighters arrested at Somalia-Kenya border

Fri. January 26, 2007 10:14 am.
Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) Authorities in Kenya said their forces have arrested five men of foreign fighters including a U.S. national and a French national suspected to be fighters for Somalia's defeated Islamist movement, the Kenyan news papers reported.

The five, which are believed to be belonging to Somalia Islamists, were carrying two AK 47 rifles with more than 120 rounds of ammunitions when they were arrested. Others were a Tunisian and two Syrians.

A senior police official was quoted as saying a joint security team arrested the men late Wednesday at a border crossing near the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu.

This brings to 18 the number of suspects arrested in the area carrying passports of countries outside the East African region. Kenyan troops on Saturday arrested 13 foreigners carrying American, British and Arabian Gulf passports at Kiunga as they attempted to cross the border from Somalia.

Officers from the Anti-terrorism Police Unit are interrogating the suspects. Government sources said the suspects could be brought to Nairobi for further interrogation.

The suspects were handed over to the country's anti-terrorism police to carry out more investigations.

"We are doing a background check on the suspects but so far their passports look genuine," the official added.

One of the men was carrying a U.S. passport, two had British passports and the rest carried Syrian, Saudi Arabian and Yemeni passports.

Last week, the Kenyan government deported 34 people suspected to be members of the Islamist movement.

The Islamists, who once controlled much of southern and central Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, have retreated to remote regions near the Kenyan frontier, prompting Nairobi to close its border and lock out thousands of refugees.

Somalia: Yemen set to mediate Islamists and US

Thu. January 25, 2007 11:41 am.
Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) The Yemeni government is currently involving in efforts to act as a go-between the US government and the second man of Islamists leadership who is now being held in Nairobi under the protection of Kenyan authorities, reliable sources reports on Thursday.

Yemeni officials are secretly trying to hold talks between Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and the United States government over Somalia future.

Washington sees Sheik Ahmed as moderate cleric who has wide support in Somalia and can play a positive role in the reconciliation process in the war-torn country (Somalia).

Sources from Nairobi indicate that Sheik Sharif might be extradited to an Arab state, possibly Yemen.

Meanwhile, yesterday Nairobi based Daily Standard newspaper reported that Somalia Prime Minister Ali Mohamed said his government wants Sheik Sharrif and his supporters to participate in the ongoing reconciliation talks.

Premier Gedi made the statement before flying from Nairobi and returning to Mogadishu.

"We want all UIC officials and supporters including Sheikh Sharrif to come to Mogadishu for talks in Somalia," he was quoted as saying.

Gedi added that none of them would be persecuted in Mogadishu since his government's aim is to restore peace and order rather than revenge.

Somalia urged to include Islamists in peace talks

By William Wallis in Addis Ababa
January 26 2007 02:00

International pressure on Somalia's interim government to include defeated Islamists in talks over the country's future was building yesterday as foreign ministers met in Addis Ababa ahead of an African Union summit.

The US and EU appear to have singled out Sheikh Sheriff Ahmed, one of the main leaders of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which held sway over much of southern Somalia last year, as potentially central to the country's stability in the aftermath of Ethiopia's invasion last month.

Their primary concern is to prevent Somalia, which has been without a functioning government since the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre as president in 1991, evolving into a haven for international terrorist networks amid the chaos of warlord rule.

Both the EU and US appear to believe there is an opportunity to drive a wedge between adherents of Somalia's traditional Sufi Islam, such as Sheikh Sheriff, and jihadist militants influenced by more extreme and puritanical forms of Islam from the Gulf.

The rise to power and expansionary rhetoric of harder line elements within the Islamist coalition, which brought a semblance of order to Mogadishu during a six-month reign last year, was one of the pretexts for Ethiopia's invasion.

But members of Somalia's weak transitional government, born of peace talks in 2004 but installed in Mogadishu only this month largely thanks to Ethiopia's intervention, are resisting international pressure to include more moderate Islamists to build a broader constituency and are becoming increasingly sensitive to interference from the west.

On Wednesday Michael Rassenberger, the US ambassador to Kenya, took the unusual step of meeting Sheikh Sheriff in Nairobi after he had handed himself into Kenyan custody.

Nothing emerged from the talks, but an embassy official said the US believed that if he renounced "violence and extremism", Sheikh Sheriff could provide a "positive contribution to dialogue" in Somalia.

"We do not believe he is an al-Qaeda operative. We believe he has demonstrated moderate tendencies," the official said.

Diplomats in Nairobi said that since fleeing across the Somalia border, Sheikh Sheriff had been questioned and was being held in "protective custody" at a hotel but was not under arrest.

The interim government, meanwhile, appears unimpressed by international efforts to include Sheikh Sheriff in a broader peace process.

"America can meet anyone they like. It is their business. But we will not accept anyone dictating to us," Abdikarin Farah, Somalia's ambassador to the AU, said on the sidelines of the AU meeting.

Mr Farah said interim government forces were holding hundreds if not thousands of Islamists, among them foreign jihadists. Many would be put on trial, he said.

The government had incl-uded three former ICU members in a security committee for Mogadishu and was in talks with others, he said. But Islamic courts "would not be reconstituted".

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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