Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Somalia Update: Heavy Fighting Rocks Capital; Piracy Increase; Autonomous Regions Dispute Territory

MOGADISHU 16 October 2007 Sapa-AFP


A civilian was killed in heavy fighting that rocked the Somali capital on Tuesday, shattering a week-long lull in clashes between Ethiopia-backed government forces and Islamist-led insurgents.

Rival sides pounded each other with heavy artillery, mainly in southern Mogadishu, an AFP correspondent reported.

"A mortar landed in a house where it killed a civilian and wounded four others," said Ahmed Abdullahi, a resident of northern Sanaa neighbourhood.

Abdullahi said the shell was a stray fired from the battle zones that were inaccessible due to the fighting.

Ethiopian-backed government forces have been battling Islamist-led insurgents since the beginning of the year, when the guerrillas were ousted from the country's southern and central regions.

Somalia has had no consistent central authority since former
dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, touching off a deadly power struggle that has defied numerous internationally-backed peace initiatives.

NAIROBI, Kenya 16 October 2007 Sapa-AP


Piracy off Somalia is on the rise because an Islamic group that had cracked down on pirates was ousted, an official who tracks piracy cases off Africa's side of the Indian Ocean said Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, an international watchdog reported maritime pirate attacks worldwide shot up 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with Somalia and Nigeria showing the biggest increases.

Attacks rose rapidly in Somalia to 26 reported cases, up from only 8 a year earlier, the International Maritime Bureau said in its report. Some hijackings have turned deadly - pirates complaining their demands had not been met killed a crew member a month after seizing a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel in May off the northeastern coast of Somalia.

Somali pirates even targeted vessels on humanitarian missions, such as the MV Rozen that was hijacked in February soon after it had delivered food aid to northeastern Somalia. The ship and its crew were released in April, but the World Food Program has been forced to rely on more expensive air deliveries of food aid to Somalia.

Somalia has had 16 years of violence and anarchy, and now is led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital, and challenged by an Islamic insurgency. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

During the six months that an Islamic group known as the Council of Islamic Courts ruled most of southern Somalia, where Somali pirates are based, piracy abated, said Andrew Mwangura, the program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program.

At one point, the group announced it was sending scores of fighters with pickups mounted with machine-guns and anti-aircraft guns to central Somali regions to crack down on pirates based there. Islamic fighters even stormed a hijacked, UAE-registered ship and recaptured it after a gun battle in which pirates - but no crew members - were reportedly wounded.

Mwangura said but piracy increased this year after Ethiopian forces backing Somali government troops ousted the Islamic courts in December.

"So it seems as if some elements within the Somali transitional federal government and some businessmen in Puntland (a northeastern Somalia region) are involved because you know piracy is a lucrative business," Mwangura told The Associated Press.

Somali government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Nigeria suffered 26 pirate attacks so far this year, up from 9 previously.

A Nigerian Navy spokesman, Capt. Henry Babalola, said criminals are now targeting the most vulnerable vessels - shipping trawlers - because authorities have cracked down on crude oil theft. The pirates seize ships' valuable communications equipment.

Babalola said the Navy has only 15 patrol boats for the Rivers and Delta states, but there are hundreds of waterways where pirates can attack.

"That makes it impossible to cover all these places," he told The Associated Press.

IMB director Pottengal Mukundan urged ships to stay as far as
possible from the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria.

"The level of violence in high risk areas remain unacceptable. Pirates in Somalia are operating with impunity, seizing vessels hundreds of miles off the coast and holding the vessel and crew to ransom, making no attempt to hide their activity," he said.

Mwangura said ransoms of hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid to secure the release of a number of the vessels hijacked this year and part of the money is, "paid through bank accounts of individuals in (Kenyan cities) Nairobi and Mombasa."

He said individuals who negotiated the release of some of the
vessels gave him the information, adding that the companies that owned the vessels did not directly pay the ransoms, but risk management companies they hired did so.

In its report, the International Maritime Bureau said that while Africa remains a troubled area, Southeast Asia's Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways, has been relatively quiet.

A total of 198 attacks on ships were reported between January and September this year, up from 174 in the same period in 2006, the International Maritime Bureau said.

It said a total of 15 vessels were hijacked, 63 crew kidnapped and three killed.

In the July to September period alone, there were 72 incidents, up from 47 in the same period a year earlier, marking the second straight quarterly rise in attacks, the London-based IMB said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"If this current trend continues, it would appear that the decline in piracy attacks since 2004 has bottomed out," it said.

Indonesia remained the world's worst piracy hotspot, with 37 attacks in the first nine months of 2007 - but that was an improvement from 40 in the same period a year earlier, the IMB said.

MOGADISHU, Somalia 15 October 2007 Sapa-AP


Somali rivals in the north fought over a regional capital, with one side claiming to have captured it Monday after an unknown number of casualties.

Tensions have been simmering for weeks in the usually quiet north, far from the Islamic insurgency in the south. The semiautonomous northeastern region of Puntland and the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland are clashing over the Sool region, whose capital is Las Anod.

"We have defeated the Puntland troops who attacked us early in the morning (Monday). We have captured Las Anod town and its environs," Somaliland government spokesman Said Adani told The Associated Press by phone. "The town is calm and there is no violence inside it now."

Adani said there were "casualties" on both sides but declined to give figures. He said Somaliland troops will remain in the town, "as it is part and parcel of Somaliland."

Jama Hirsi Farah, Puntland's minister of state for security,
confirmed the fighting, but declined to comment on the status of Las Anod.

The weak government in the national capital, Magodishu, has little authority outside the south, and even there challenged by Islamic fighters and clan divisions.

Somaliland bases its claim to Las Anod on history, saying it was part of the area Britain ruled until Somaliland got independence in 1960 and then united with Italian Somaliland to form present-day Somalia. Puntland says Las Anod's inhabitants belong to the same clan as Puntland's.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when rival warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other. The impoverished Horn of Africa nation is awash with weapons and riven by clan rivalries, but until now Somaliland and Puntland have managed to avoid much of the clan-based fighting that has plagued central and southern Somalia.

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

17:11 MECCA TIME, 14:11 GMT

Food aid frozen after Somali arrest

The UN food agency has said months of fighting has severely impaired aid deliveries

The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended aid distribution to more than 75,000 people in Mogadishu following the arrest of one of its officials by Somali government forces.

The arrest comes on Wednesday, the same day the WFP said three lorry drivers working for it in Sudan's Darfur region had been killed while delivering aid.

Government troops stormed UN offices in the Somali capital on Wednesday, arresting Idris Osman, who heads WFP operations in the city.

A statement from the UN said: "WFP is forced immediately to suspend these distributions and the loading of WFP food from our warehouses in the Somali capital."

It said the move came "in the light of Mr Osman's detention and in view of WFP's duty to safeguard its staff".


Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera's correspondent speaking from Nairobi, said: "A senior government official told me they had Mr Osman with them and the police were interrogating him, but they were not ready to give any more information.

"It is such arrests, and the complaints about humanitarian access, that have been a concern for many."

Peter Smerdon, a WFP spokesman, in Nairobi said that Osman was being detained in Mogadishu.

"WFP is urgently taking his detention up with the authorities," Smerdon said.

Barry Came, an agency spokesman at the WFP's headquarters in Rome, said the organisation was "still trying to ascertain the exact circumstances" of Osman's arrest.

Dangerous conditions

The WFP has said months of violence in Somalia have severely impaired aid deliveries, while elsewhere in Africa WFP employees also work in dangerous conditions.

Three lorry drivers working for it were killed in Sudan's Darfur region in the past few days, the WFP said on Wednesday.

Two of the men were killed in an ambush on Tuesday near the South Darfur town of Ed Daien, close to where 10 African Union peacekeepers were killed in September.

A third driver was killed on October 12 on the road from Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, to El Fasher in North Darfur. The UN body said it did not know the identity of the attackers.

Kenro Oshidari, the head of WFP in Sudan, said his organisation was "deeply saddened and shocked by the killings".

He said the three men "knew the dangers they were facing but continued to work tirelessly to alleviate suffering and bring food to the hungry in Darfur".

All three men worked for a private company that delivers WFP food aid to storehouses in Darfur, from where the UN agency and multiple aid groups then distribute it to about three million people.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies