Thursday, April 26, 2007

Somalia News: Battles Rage in Mogadishu; Thousands Flee

Battles rage in Somalia

27 April 2007

MOGADISHU--Ethiopian tanks supporting the Somali government pounded insurgent positions in Mogadishu yesterday in an escalation of the nine-day offensive and the prime minister said "most fighting" was over.

Ali Mohamed Gedi said allied Somali-Ethiopian troops were now working to clear "pockets of resistance" in a second week of fighting, which locals say has killed some 300 people, mostly civilians, and emptied large parts of the city.

"Most of the fighting in Mogadishu is now over. The government has captured a lot of territory where the insurgents were," Gedi told a news conference.

Artillery and machinegun fire could still be heard in northern parts of the devastated coastal capital.

Gedi urged clan militia and foreign jihadists in fighting the government, to return home and stay there until his administration could incorporate them into a new national army.
Friday, April 27, 2007

Ethiopian Shells Hit Mogadishu

By Salad Duhul
The Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Ethiopian tanks and artillery shelled an insurgent stronghold in northern Mogadishu on Thursday, as cease-fire talks floundered and rumors spread that a top Islamic rebel had arrived in the capital.

The heavy-weapons fire was in support of Somali government troops attempting to clear insurgents from a neighborhood known for housing Islamic radicals. A missile slammed through the roof of a nearby children's hospital packed with wounded civilians late Wednesday.

Leaders from the Hawiye clan were expected to meet again Thursday with Ethiopian army officers to negotiate a cease-fire. A clan leader who attended the meeting said the Ethiopian officers wanted the elders to hand over fighters from the Council of Islamic Courts military wing, the Shabab.

The Shabab, which the United States accuses of having ties to al-Qaida, has taken credit for a string of suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops.

The leader who attended the meeting, but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the elders denied any knowledge about the Shabab or al-Qaida suspects believed to be in the country.

Meanwhile, bodyguards linked to a top Islamic extremist, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, arrived in Mogadishu on Wednesday, sparking rumors that Aweys and other Shabab leaders were leading the fighting against the Somali and Ethiopian troops.

Most members of the courts' leadership have either fled the country, or been in hiding since Ethiopia intervened in December to prop up the government.

The shell that hit the children's hospital on Wednesday exploded in a ward housing 20 to 30 wounded adults, said Wilhelm Huber, regional director for SOS Children's Villages.

The children had been evacuated earlier when shells hit the compound, Huber said.

Five missiles hit the grounds in the lunchtime attack, but only one hit a ward, Huber said. He said people were injured, but he did not have details due to the chaotic situation.

"What is happening now cannot go on," he said from Nairobi, Kenya, where he is based. He said he did not believe the hospital had been deliberately targeted, but that the shell clearly had come from government forces because of the direction of the missiles.

"People are desperate," Huber said. "This is a tragic situation."

Somali government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Council of Islamic Courts ruled much of southern Somalia for six relatively peaceful months in 2006 before being ousted by Somali troops and their Ethiopian allies, along with U.S. special forces. Radicals in the council rejected a secular government and have been accused of having ties to al-Qaida.

Rights groups say more than 350 people have been killed in eight straight days of fighting.

The United Nations says more than 340,000 of Mogadishu's 2 million residents have fled since February.

Thousands flee as shelling by Ethiopian tanks kills hundreds of civilians in Somali capital

Chris McGreal, Africa correspondent
Friday April 27, 2007

The Somali capital Mogadishu suffered some of the heaviest bombardment in nine days of fighting yesterday, as Ethiopian tanks supporting the interim government shelled new areas of the city despite a claim by the Somali prime minister to have routed Islamist insurgents.

The Ethiopian assault has killed several hundred people, many of them civilians harmed by indiscriminate shelling that has destroyed homes and shops, and forced tens of thousands to flee the city as it spread to previously relatively peaceful parts of Mogadishu. Corpses lie scattered on the streets because it is too dangerous to collect them.

More than 1,000 people were killed in an earlier round of fighting last month. More than a third of the civilian population - some 340,000 people - have fled in the past three months.

The UN humanitarian affairs chief, Sir John Holmes, yesterday accused all those involved of war crimes.

"The rules of humanitarian law are being flouted by all sides ... all factions are equally guilty of indiscriminate violence in a civilian area," he said. "Civilians in Mogadishu are paying an intolerable price for the absence of political progress and dialogue and the failure of all parties to abide by the rules of warfare."

Refugees are camped on the outskirts of the city, with water, food and medicine growing scarcer. About 600 have died of cholera and other diseases.

"At least half the capital is deserted, slowly turning it into a ghost city," the UN refugee agency said.

The interim Somali government said the 20,000-strong Ethiopian force fighting on its behalf, with 5,000 Somali troops playing a lesser role, will keep up the offensive until fighters with the Council of Islamic Courts are defeated. The council ruled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia for six months last year until overthrown by the Ethiopian army with US backing.

Somalia's prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, yesterday claimed to have defeated the Islamist forces. "We have won the fighting against the insurgents," he told Associated Press. "Most of the fighting in Mogadishu is now over. The government has captured a lot of territory where the insurgents were."

But critics say Somalia has become a battleground for Ethiopia's foreign agenda and Washington's "war on terror" that will do little to bring long term stability.

The Islamic Courts government was popular in Mogadishu after bringing relative order and driving out clan warlords responsible for 16 years of death and mayhem. But the US believed it looked too much like the Taliban, with its ban on music and dancing and the qat narcotic, and that it was sympathetic to al-Qaida.

Washington encouraged the Ethiopian military - at the "invitation" of Somalia's interim national government which was so unpopular it was unable to remain in Mogadishu - to invade and oust the Islamic Courts administration. The new Somali government includes some of the warlords who previously caused so much destruction.

A report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said that US and Ethiopian strategic interests in supporting a weak and factionalised government that is far less popular than the Islamic Courts administration are an obstacle, not a contribution, to rebuilding Somalia.

"In an uncomfortably familiar pattern, genuine multilateral concern to support the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Somalia has been hijacked by unilateral actors - especially Ethiopia and the United States," it said.

As always in Somalia, the conflict is also being driven by money through weapons smuggling and business interests.

Ethiopian forces were to have been replaced by African Union peacekeepers, but only 1,200 of the AU's promised 8,000 troops have arrived in Somalia.

Somalia: Ethiopian forces intercept weapons

Thu. April 26, 2007 02:31 pm.
By Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) The Ethiopian forces in Beledwein, provincial capital of Hiran region in central Somalia intercepted two trucks carrying weapons towards the capital, Mogadishu, sources say on Thursday.

Witnesses say that the Ethiopian forces stationed in Janda-Kundishe checkpoint, outside of Beledwein confiscated the weapons including explosives like anti-tanks mines.

It is still unclear whether the weapons were for sale or they wre sent to insurgents fighting in the capital with the Ethiopians.

It is the second time the Ethiopian forces in the region sized illegal weapons.

SOMALIA: Kismayo fighting forces civilians to flee camps

Internally displaced people are all along the road leading to the port city of Kismayo

NAIROBI, 24 April 2007 (IRIN) - Fighting between different clans serving in Somali's interim government in the port city of Kismayo had forced displaced persons living in camps to flee again, sources said.

Many internally displaced families in the Faanole neighbourhood of the city abandoned their camps as fighting broke out on Monday. Some set up temporary shelters away from the area and others headed towards the Kenyan border. At least 25 people reportedly died in the town.

Kismayo is 500km south of the capital, Mogadishu. A local journalist, who declined to be named, said the Majeerteen militia - of President Abdullahi Yusuf’s Darod sub-clan - had been pushed out of the city by the Marehan - also of the Darod sub-clan, to which the Defence Minister Barre Hiirale belongs - and was now camped outside the city.

However, Ahmed Abdi Umar, the deputy governor of Lower Juba - of which Kismayo is the regional capital - downplayed the displacement. Many people, he added, were already returning home, adding that no displaced people had gone towards the Kenyan border. "They moved to other areas within the city for safety," he said.

According to other sources, tension had been building between the two groups over power-sharing within the administration. "It just boiled over yesterday [Monday]," said a business source. The two groups, he added, had been forced to merge into one army unit, but later disintegrated into clan militias.

Muhammad Ahmed, a local journalist, said Kismayo was still tense. Many businesses had not opened for business on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Mogadishu entered the sixth day of fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and insurgents on Tuesday.

The fighting occurred mostly in the north of the city, according to a local source. He said shelling by Ethiopian and government forces on the north Mogadishu neighbourhoods of Jamhuriya and Towfiiq, insurgent strongholds, was continuing.

The insurgents comprise the remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts and Hawiye (the dominant clan in the city) militias, who are opposed to the transitional government and the presence of Ethiopian forces.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for an end to the violence in Somalia.

"The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the continuing heavy fighting in Mogadishu, which has reportedly killed more than 250 people and forced more than 320,000 from their homes in the past six days alone," spokeswoman Michèle Montas told reporters in New York.

All parties to the conflict and the international community must work to initiate an all-inclusive peace process to avoid clan warfare in south-central Somalia.

Ban called on the parties to "immediately cease all hostilities and to facilitate access for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance", renewing his call for an urgent resumption of political dialogue.

Separately, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) urged the UN Security Council and the international community to work for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Mogadishu to secure humanitarian access to displaced populations.

"All parties to the conflict and the international community must work to initiate an all-inclusive peace process to avoid clan warfare in south-central Somalia," NRC’s International Director, Jens Mjaugedal said ahead of a Council meeting on Somalia due on Tuesday.

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