Monday, October 01, 2007

Somali News Update: Ogaden Situation Raises Concern; Violence Rocks Mogadishu, etc.

Humanitarian Situation in Ogaden Raises Concern

Sep 30, 2007 (The Reporter/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- After the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) attacked an oil exploration site in the Ogaden region of the Somali Regional state, killing 74 civilian workers in April 2007, the Ethiopian national defense forces have been fighting the separatist rebel group. The fighting has affected food supply in the arid region frequently hit by drought.

The deteriorating humanitarian conditions has drawn the attention of the international community. A recent United Nations inter-agency mission to the Somali Regional State observed that humanitarian conditions within the conflict areas have deteriorated substantially over the past several months. The mission visited three of the five administrative zones in which military operations are currently under way from 30 August to 5 September.

In a report released last week, the mission said the fighting led to a worsening humanitarian situation, in which the price of food has nearly doubled. "Government restrictions of commercial and livestock trade aimed at preventing contraband activity have markedly aggravated an already fragile food security and livelihood situation.

Livestock prices have fallen by as much as one-third due to a drastic reduction of export trade from the areas of military operations. Food reserves at the household level are nearly exhausted among the communities visited.

Moreover, food aid operations in the zones affected by military operations have been seriously delayed," the mission said. The mission fears that the nutritional status of the population will rapidly worsen within two or three months if only limited quantities of commercial food continue to be available. Compounding this situation are acute shortages of drugs and other medical supplies and inadequate access to clean drinking water.

The Somali Regional State is home to approximately 4.5 million people, of whom an estimated 1.8 million live in the five zones where current military operations are ongoing.

The missions report calls for several actions. "Conditions should be created to permit a substantial increase in commercial food deliveries throughout the region and actions taken to facilitate increased livestock trade. Emergency food aid should be provided immediately for approximately 600,000 people for three months.

"Food distributions should be impartial and should reach all intended beneficiaries. Drugs for health facilities and support to establish mobile health teams should also be provided immediately" the report said.

The mission said many people in these areas fear for their individual safety and security and expressed trepidation at being caught in the middle of the conflict. The mission noted that there were reports of a worrying human rights and protection situation for the civilian population, which requires further investigation. The mission recommended that immediate actions should be taken to protect civilians in the conflict.

The ONLF rebels accuse the Ethiopian government of blockading the region, risking a man-made famine, along with burning down homes and summary executions. The rebels have accused the government of genocide. In a statement issued on September 13, the front said the government was punishing civilians for the rebel activities, adding that the UN mission had not visited areas where war crimes were being committed.

The government denies the accusations. The government said the ONLF was a terrorist group backed by the Eritrean government.

In a statement issued on September 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the UN mission ascertained that there was humanitarian crisis in the Somali Regional State. "The Ethiopian government will ensure that humanitarian needs of the people in the region, including health services and nutrition requirements, are effectively addressed without further delay. The government has also assured the UN mission that prompt action will be taken to ensure adequate food supply and health services to reach all those in need in collaboration with all stakeholders," the Ministry said.

With Regard to border trade and commercial activities, the government said it will continue with its effort to identify additional trade corridors. "In the shortest time possible, the government is committed to finding ways of ensuring that these border trade and commercial activities, including livestock trade, continue in a normal manner," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, who recently visited the Ogaden region, defended the government's position. Frazer told a press conference that there was no genocide act committed by the Ethiopia government in the region.

"The Ethiopian defense forces are not there to kill civilians. They are trying to stop the insurgent activities of the ONLF, which is supported by the Eritrean government. And Ethiopia has the right to defend itself," she said.

Frazer said that there could have been some civilian causalities in the military operation. "It is very difficult to completely avoid civilian casualities during this kind of military operation," she added.

The Ethiopian government, on its part, accused ONLF of massacring 74 civilian workers of oil companies. The ONLF denies the charge. The front said that it attacked a military camp and it did not target the civilians. It said the civilians were killed in crossfire.

However, eyewitnesses, who servived the attack, told The Reporter that the rebels deliberately murdered the civilian workers. Eskindir, a truck driver who was wounded by three bullets in the attack in the Degehabur zone in Abole locality, said that the rebels lined up the employees and sprayed them with bullets.

by Kaleyesus Bekele

Somalia: 3 people killed as violence rocks Mogadishu

Mon. September 24, 2007 06:16 pm.
By Bonny Apunyu

(SomaliNet) Islamist-led insurgents clashed on Sunday with Somali government troops in northern Mogadishu in some of the heaviest fighting in weeks, witnesses said, as three people died in attacks in the capital.

The upsurge in violence comes three days after Somalia's new Islamist-dominated opposition alliance said its forces had launched a bid to oust Ethiopian troops from battle-scarred Horn of Africa nation.

Rival sides pounded each other with machineguns, rocket propelled grenades and anti-aircraft rockets around Mogadishu University and Barakat Cemetery, witnesses added.

"I saw around 50 heavily-armed insurgents attacking the government forces near the university and then fighting started," said Mohamed Ganey, who lives in the city's north.

"I then saw smoke rising to the sky from the battlefied. They were exchanging machinegun fire, RPGs, anti-aircraft rockets for quite sometimes," said Ganey, adding the insurgents "were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great)."

Another resident Abdullahi Hassan Ali said the artillery duel was "heaviest" in recent weeks in Mogadishu, home to about one million.

"It is face-to-face fighting and not like ambushes in the past," Ali told reporters.

On Thursday, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) vowed to drive out Ethiopian forces deployed in Somalia to bolster the feeble government after.

The ARS - a coalition of all anti-government forces - was formed on September 12 to liberate Somalia.

Earlier on Sunday, three people, including a policeman, were killed in the seaside capital, the latest victims from a string of attacks that have convulsed the city.

Gunmen shot an unidentified man in Mogadishu's violence-wracked Bakara market area, witness Abdullahi Mohamed told reporters.

"The assailants managed to escape after killing the man," he said.

Witnesses said a teenager killed a civilian in the city's Sanaa neighbourhood. A policeman was gunned down in the Suq Baad neighbourhood by unidentified gunmen, according to locals.

The interim government claims the insurgency is waning but lawless pockets still remain in Mogadishu.

Ethiopia's army came to the rescue of the government last year and in April wrested final control of Mogadishu from an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.

The remnants of the fundamentalist Islamic group and its tribal allies have since reverted to street guerrilla tactics, carrying out daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets in the capital.

The Ethiopian and Somali forces as well as at least 1 500 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda have been unable to stem the insurgency that threatens to paralyse the government.

At least 80 people have been killed in the flashpoint area of Bakara market alone since June, most of them civilians, according to an AFP count based on reports by hospital sources.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a deadly clan-based power struggle that has defied numerous efforts to restore stability.

Mogadishu violence has raged despite a recent government-sponsored reconciliation conference, which was boycotted by Islamist-led Somali opposition groups, and ended with nothing to speak of. - Sapa-AFP

News Category: Somalia

Thousands flee fighting to face starvation

Thu. September 27, 2007 06:12 pm.
By Zainab Osman

(SomaliNet) Tens of thousands of Somalis who fled the violence in their conflict-wracked capital are facing yet another humanitarian crisis -- a debilitating food shortage after poor rains. Seven months ago, Dahir Abdi Hassan, 19, fled from the near-daily violence in Mogadishu with five of his family members, including his parents.

In Mogadishu, Hassan's family ate two meals a day. Now, in this southern Somalia agricultural town of Jowhar, they make do with one meal a day as they live with a relative who also has to fend for his 10 children.

"I'm not comfortable with that but what I can do? There is no work and it is too dangerous to go back,'' to Mogadishu, Hassan said Wednesday.

Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said the situation has worsened since July and is "already an emergency.''

"Families cannot get the food they need either because they cannot afford it or because there isn't any where they are. They just have to stay where they are safe and hope they get assistance,'' Smerdon told The Associated Press.

Already, 1.5 million of Somalia's estimated 7 million people need food aid. Nearly 300,000 are at risk of starvation, aid workers say.

The hunger is at its most acute in the southern Somalia region of Shabelle region that has served as the country's breadbasket. Poor rains have yielded the worst harvest in 13 years, and an influx of 80,000 people fleeing Mogadishu has pushed up food prices beyond the reach of many locals.

Hundreds of thousands have left Mogadishu since December. They have been fleeing violence in the capital between Somali soldiers, their Ethiopian allies and insurgents believed to be remnants of a radical Islamic group called the Council of Islamic Courts that controlled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia for six months.

The Ethiopian troops routed the Islamic fighters in December and the Islamic fighters vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency. Thousands of Somalis have died in the fighting this year.

"We are hearing a lot more gunfire, grenades and mortar fire ... on a daily basis for the last four or five weeks. Even anti-aircraft fire,'' said Colin McIlreavy, the head of one of the chapters of Medecins Sans Frontieres working in Somalia. McIlreavy was speaking in the capital of neighboring Kenya, Nairobi, where all aid agencies working in Somalia are based because of insecurity in the Horn of Africa nation.

McIlreavy's group operates a clinic near Mogadishu's main market. The violence and checkpoints in Mogadishu has often stopped patients reaching the clinic, he said.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, pulling the Horn of Africa nation into years of violence and anarchy.--Hiraan Online

Somalia: UNHCR distributes aid outside Mogadishu, further displacement

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 28 September 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yesterday (Thursday), UNHCR began distributing much-needed relief supplies for some 24,000 people in the Somali town of Afgooye, 30 km west of Mogadishu -- many of whom had fled a recent intensification of violence in the capital over the last two weeks. Plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans are being distributed over a three-day period.

Nearly 65,000 people have fled the volatile Somali capital since the beginning of June, according to figures compiled by the UN refugee agency and a network of partners which are constantly being updated. In September alone, 11,000 people fled Mogadishu.

Although the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) said in May that insurgents had been ousted after a three months of fighting which had led almost 400,000 civilians to flee the volatile capital, ongoing violence sparked a second wave of departures in June. Only 125,000 people have returned to Mogadishu.

More than 40,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced in Afgooye since February. Our staff report that along the road from Mogadishu, the 22 settlements built by families who fled the capital earlier this year, are feeling the pressure of the new arrivals. People are so numerous that they sometimes block the road.

Some families cannot afford the cost of transportation any further afield, while others want to remain close to the city, hoping to go back as soon as the violence eases. Some people travel to and from the capital every day to earn their living.

While many of the families which have been staying around Afgooye for months have already received support from UNHCR and other international organizations, the new arrivals were in dire need of shelter and other supplies so a fresh distribution was organised

Our staff report that families are still fleeing Mogadishu every day due to an increase in violence. New departures were registered this week after the TFG ordered residents of three northern districts of Mogadishu - Huriwaa, Yaakhshiid and Wardhigley - to vacate their houses. The TFG claimed that they were supporting the insurgents, following the death of several soldiers and of their commander during a fight with insurgents in the area.

As the road to Afgooye is clogged with people, Mogadishu residents have started using an alternative road to flee the city. New settlements have sprung up along the road to Warshiikh district, north-east of Mogadishu, where the living conditions are very precarious with no water trucked into the area, nor shelter material available.

Mogadishu is now divided into two parts; the northern part is becoming deserted as residents flee clashes between the Ethiopian-backed TFG forces and insurgents, whereas the southern part of the city is calm. The streets of northern Mogadishu are so empty during the day, a UNHCR staff member says, literally only a handful of people can be seen.

The Bakara market, which used to be one of the biggest in East Africa, is barely functioning as it is regularly closed to vehicles because of insecurity such as fighting, assassinations and killings linked to robbery. People are scared to walk close to the market with only the most desperate still going, risking their lives to sell a few vegetables as they have no other way of keeping their children from starving.

The very reduced nature of the market severely threatens the local economy, at a time when inflation is running high. The price of staple items have tripled over the past two months and counterfeit money is everywhere. Daily life has become unbearable for those who live in neighborhoods which are frequently sealed by the TFG, as they cannot leave their houses to make a living.

Residents of north Mogadishu, who have not fled the city, have moved in with relatives in the relative calm of south Mogadishu, burdening already impoverished families. But they fear instability could also spread to the southern part of the city.

Somalia: The government must keep the safety of journalists, UN envoy says

Sun. September 23, 2007 07:50 pm.-
By Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) Leaders of Somalia's interim government have given assurances there will be no repeat of an armed raid this week on the independent Shabelle media house, new U.N. special envoy Ahmedou Ould Abdallah said on Saturday, Reuters says.

But he told Reuters "for me that is not enough. I judge people by their acts." He added in an interview: "They (government leaders) say it was an accident. But what is important is that they recognised it was unnecessary, that it was a mistake."

He was speaking in neighbouring Kenya after talks in Mogadishu with President Abdullahi Yusuf and other officials.

A security guard was wounded in Tuesday's raid at Shabelle, which, along with other independent media houses, has been accused by the authorities of supporting insurgents.

It had already been taken off the air twice this year. The raid followed an earlier one a week ago in which 18 Shabelle employees were briefly detained and interrogated.

The government's treatment of journalists has angered press freedom groups, and on Saturday U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington was "gravely concerned".

"We call on the Transitional Federal Government to ensure the safety and protection of a free and independent media in Somalia," McCormack said in a statement. "Shabelle Media Network and other Somali media organisations play a vital role in the continued political dialogue and reconciliation process in Somalia."

Reconciliation efforts in the country have been hit by last week's formation in Eritrea of an opposition alliance vowing to wage war on Ethiopian troops supporting Yusuf's administration. Abdallah said it was crucial Somalia's foreign friends did not get "bogged down" in analysing the country's often opaque clan and sub-clan structures in search of a lasting solution. "That is not the point," he said.

"The point is, how do we get out of the situation that Somalia has been in for the last 16 years? You can't address a tragedy by just studying clans." And while he did not say explicitly whether he would meet leaders of the new opposition alliance, he said he would discuss his role widely with Somalis at home and in the Diaspora.

"I have seen the recognised government and I've no problem seeing any other Somali official, whether they are in Somalia, in Asmara or in Jeddah," the U.N. envoy said. "Why not? I have no preconceived ideas and I will meet them all."

Source: Reuters

Somaliland official says al Qaeda suspects arrested

Sat. September 22, 2007 06:55 pm.
By Mohamed Abdi Farah

(SomaliNet) Ethiopian troops arrested six men believed to be members of al Qaeda during a cross-border operation in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, a senior Somaliland official said on Saturday, Reuters reports.

There was no immediate word from Addis Ababa, which has sent thousands of soldiers to support an interim government in neighbouring Somalia threatened by Islamist-led insurgents.

The chairman of Somaliland's central region of Togdheer, Abdi Hussein Dere, told reporters Ethiopian forces entered the town of Buholde on Friday and occupied the main police station before arresting six Somalis in four vehicles.

"The cars were on their way to Mogadishu," Dere told a news conference. "After their arrest, I think Ethiopian informers told the troops the arrested men belonged to al Qaeda."

Somalia's interim administration often accuses foreign jihadists of working with local insurgents in the capital to carry out roadside bombings and assassinations that have targeted the government and its Ethiopian military allies.

In June, the U.S. military launched air strikes on the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, which borders Somaliland.

U.S. officials declined to comment on a CNN report that they were targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 240 people.

The United States also launched air strikes in southern Somalia in January aimed at three top al Qaeda suspects but killed the suspects' allies instead, U.S. officials have said.

Source: Reuters

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