Monday, May 19, 2008

Somali News Bulletin: Resistance Fighters Take Town; Security Council Wants UN Force Deployed; etc.

Somali News Bulletin: Resistance Fighters Seize Town; Security Council Wants UN Forces Deployed; etc.

MOGADISHU (AFP) - Islamic fighters in Somalia seized a major agricultural centre overnight, sending hundreds of people fleeing, a human rights leader said yesterday.The attack underscored the government's vulnerabilities, as UN-sponsored peace talks stalled in neighbouring Djibouti.

Ali Bashi, of Fanole rights group, said the Islamic Courts Union ousted fighters loyal to Somalia's fragile government from Jilib overnight and were patrolling the southern town yesterday.

Two fighters were killed and three others were wounded in the fighting, he said, citing reports from his office in Jilib.Jilib resident Mohamed Sandhere said he saw two dead government fighters near a checkpoint and five others, including two civilians, who were badly wounded.

After the gunmen groups entered the town from several directions, the two sides fought with guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The Islamic fightersseised some weapons and equipment from the government side, including four armoured trucks, said witness Elmi Ali.

Hundreds of refugees were streaming out of the town yesterday."These people already had fled from fighting in Mogadishu and today again were forced to flee because they fear more violence," Bashi told AFP in a telephone call from southern Kismayo town.

Security Council wants UN peacekeepers deployed in Somalia

Fri. May 16, 2008 08:35 am
By Bonny Apunyu

(SomaliNet) For the first time in years, the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday calling for a U.N. political presence in conflict-wracked Somalia setting conditions for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers.

According to a news source, the resolution urged the United Nations to move its Somalia political office from Kenya to the Horn of Africa nation. The council also said it will consider deploying U.N. peacekeepers to replace African Union troops now on the ground, subject to progress in improving political reconciliation and security conditions.

Experts say that will be difficult in a country that has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The warlords then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken nation of 7 million people into chaos.

Meanwhile, the current weak transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, is struggling to quash a re-emerging Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.

The resolution showed the council's determination to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's efforts to promote a political settlement and improved security in Somalia while holding out the carrot of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

A massive U.N. relief operation was launched for thousands of Somalis left starving because of fighting after Siad Barre's ouster in 1991. But in 1993, clan militia fighters shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. servicemen in fighting. After that, the U.S. withdrew its troops and the U.N. scaled back its peacekeeping operation, eventually abandoning it in 1995.

The British-sponsored resolution was changed at the last minute at South Africa's insistence to strengthen the language on a future U.N. peacekeeping force.

"I am so excited! I'm over the moon!" South Africa's jubilant U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters afterwards.

"For the first time, it's a signal that if the political conditions are right, if the security situation on the ground is right, this council will do something," Kumalo said. "It sends a signal to the Somali people that we've heard their cries. It sends a signal that this council is serious."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, the current council president, called the resolution "a step forward," saying it backs U.N.-supported efforts to broaden the political base of the transitional government.

But he cautioned against immediate results. "The United Nations can't bring peace to Somalia overnight.

It's a long, hard road to peace in a country that has not known effective government for 17 years," Sawers told reporters. "Many things can go wrong, but the Security Council is backing those efforts, not just rhetorically but in practical terms as well."

In the meantime, the resolution calls on all countries to provide money, personnel and equipment to fully deploy the AU force now on the ground in Somalia, known as AMISOM. It is authorized to have 8,000 troops but currently only has 2,600 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi.

In a report to the Security Council in March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of the AU force being replaced by an 8,000-strong multinational force, which could pave the way for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who helped Somalia rout the Islamic movement in January 2007.

The multinational force could then be replaced by a U.N.
peacekeeping force of up to 27,000 soldiers and 1,500 police, he suggested.

The resolution calls on the secretary-general to keep planning for the possible deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, including "possible additional scenarios."

On other issues, the council condemned human rights violations in Somalia.

It called on states and regional organizations coordinating with each other and the secretary-general, and with the agreement of Somalia's transitional government "to take action to protect shipping involved with the transportation and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia and U.N.--authorized activities." -AP

'Somalia talks a waste of time'- Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir

Fri. May 16, 2008 02:23 am.
By Bonny Apunyu

(SomaliNet) Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said on Thursday that talks between Somalia's interim government and the opposition in Djibouti are a waste of time and no tangible outcome can be expected.

Speaking from Eritrean capital Asmara, where he lives in exile, the former army colonel urged his allies from the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) attending the peace talks to walk out.

"I don't expect anything tangible to come out of the meeting," Aweys, 62, said. "What two or three people have agreed upon in a short sitting cannot be of good to the public ... It's just a waste of time."

Negotiations started at the weekend over Somalia's conflict pitting government troops and their Ethiopian military allies against Islamist insurgents, remnants of an ousted sharia courts group led by Aweys.

Aweys, asked whether his hardline stance might cause a rift in the ARS, said it would actually strengthen the group and help them foster a united approach towards ending the conflict.

"I wish to tell my brothers from the alliance they should come back so that we can first agree together ... The meeting was hastily planned and the main thorny issues are not addressed," he said.

Aweys said dialogue could succeed only if Somalia was freed from "Ethiopian occupation" and its people were able to enjoy freedom and justice.

"The solution is simple. Our enemy Ethiopia should be removed. We have a responsibility to first throw them out then we can organise a national conference after attaining freedom," the cleric-turned-politician said.

Most Somalis resent the presence of soldiers from Ethiopia, Somalia's ancient rival. The government sought Ethiopia's help to recapture the capital Mogadishu in 2006.

Aweys was one of those behind Somalia's Islamic Courts Council which defeated US-backed warlords in mid-2006, seizing Mogadishu and much of the south before allied Somali-Ethiopian troops ousted them six months later.

Despite gaining some popularity for restoring law and order, the Islamists fell out of popular favour for imposing strict Sharia law, whipping drunkards in public and closing down cinemas and beauty parlours viewed as anti-Islamic.

Aweys urged the world to treat the Somalis, deprived of effective central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator, fairly. He indicated change was possible with the US president to be elected in 2008 to replace George Bush.

"We would love America to be led by a man who would reduce the current problems in the world, who would ease the suffering of many oppressed people like us," he said.-Reuters

May 17, 2008

Famine Looms as Wars Rend Horn of Africa

New York Times

DAGAARI, Somalia — The global food crisis has arrived at Safia Ali’s hut.

She cannot afford rice or wheat or powdered milk anymore.

At the same time, a drought has decimated her family’s herd of goats, turning their sole livelihood into a pile of bleached bones and papery skin.

The result is that Ms. Safia, a 25-year-old mother of five, has not eaten in a week. Her 1-year-old son is starving too, an adorable, listless boy who doesn’t even respond to a pinch.

Somalia — and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter — was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine.

But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst.

This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos.

“We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.

There has been a collision of troubles throughout the region: skimpy rainfall, disastrous harvests, soaring food prices, dying livestock, escalating violence, out-of-control inflation, and shrinking food aid because of many of these factors.

Across the border in Ethiopia, in the war-racked Ogaden region, the situation sounds just as dire. In Darfur, the United Nations has had to cut food rations because of a rise in banditry that endangers aid deliveries. Kenya is looking vulnerable, too.

A recent headline in one of Kenya’s leading newspapers blared, “25,000 villagers risk starving,” referring to a combination of drought, higher fertilizer and fuel costs and postelection violence that displaced thousands of farmers. “These places aren’t on the brink,” Mr. Sachs said. “They’ve gone over the cliff.”

Many Somalis are trying to stave off starvation with a thin gruel made from mashed thorn-tree branches called jerrin. Some village elders said their children were chewing on their own lips and tongues because they had no food. The weather has been merciless — intensely hot days, followed by cruelly clear nights.

This week, Saida Mohamed Afrah, another emaciated mother, left her two children under a tree and went scavenging for food and water. When she came back two hours later, her children were dead.

She had little to say about the drought. “I just wish my children had died in my lap,” she said.

The United Nations has declared a wide swath of central Somalia a humanitarian emergency, the final stage before a full-blown famine. But Christian Balslev-Olesen, the head of Unicef operations in Somalia, said the situation was likely to become a famine in the coming weeks.

Famine is defined by several criteria, including malnutrition, mortality, food and water scarcity and destruction of livelihood. Some of those factors, like an acute malnutrition rate of 24 percent in some areas of Somalia, have already soared past emergency thresholds and are closing in on famine range. Mr. Balslev-Olesen said Unicef recently received reports of people dying from hunger and thirst. It is hard to know exactly how many, he said, though local elders have put the number in the mid-hundreds.

“We have all the indicators in place for a catastrophe,” Mr. Balslev-Olesen said. “We cannot call it that yet. But I’m very much concerned it’s just a matter of weeks until we have to.”

Many people already consider Somalia a catastrophe. It has some of the highest malnutrition rates anywhere in the world — in a good year. The collapse of the central government in 1991 plunged Somalia into a spiral of clan-driven bloodshed that it has yet to pull out of. The era began with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The consensus now is that all the same elements of the early 1990s — high-intensity conflict, widespread displacement and drought — are lining up again, and at a time of the biggest spike in global food prices in more than 30 years. The United Nations says 2.6 million Somalis need assistance and the number could soon swell to 3.5 million, nearly half the estimated population. If there is excellent rain or a sudden peace, the crisis may ease. But weather projections and even the rosiest political forecasts do not predict that.

Whether Somalia slips into a famine may depend on aid, and right now, that does not look so good either. Eleven aid workers have been killed this year, and United Nations officials say Somalia is as complicated — and dangerous — as ever.

Beyond the warlord and clan fighting, there is now a budding conflict with Western aid workers. The Bush administration has said that terrorists with Al Qaeda are hiding in Somalia, sheltered by local Islamists, and has gone after them with American airstrikes. But a recent American attack on an Islamist leader in Dusa Marreb, a town in the center of the drought zone, has spawned a wave of revenge threats against Western aid workers. The United Nations and private aid organizations say it is now too dangerous to expand their life-saving work in Dusa Marreb.

“We’re in a different contextual environment right now,” said Chris Smoot, the program director for World Vision aid projects in Somalia. He said there were anti-Western “rogue elements that can shut you down, in any shape or form, at any time.”

Aid is also a serious problem in the contested Ogaden region of Ethiopia, across the border from here. A recent report written by a contractor working for the United States Agency for International Development said the drought there was “clearly worsening” and that the response by the Ethiopian government, one of America’s closest allies in Africa, was “absolutely abysmal.”

This may be no accident. The Ethiopian government is struggling with an insurgency in the Ogaden, and the report said that “food is clearly being used as a weapon,” with the government starving out rebel areas, while a mysterious warehouse of American-donated food was discovered across the road from an Ethiopian Army base. “The U.S.G.,” meaning the United States government, “cannot in good conscience allow the food operation to continue in its current manifestation,” the report said. “This situation would be absolutely shameful in any other country.”

The report was not made public, though a copy was provided to The New York Times. When asked about it, a senior American aid official characterized the report as “just a snapshot and one person’s observations and impressions.” But the senior aid official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said: “We’re not saying there’s not a crisis in the Ogaden. We’re not saying the Ethiopian response has been satisfactory. But some progress has been made. And we need more.”

Ethiopian officials declined comment and have denied human rights abuses in the Ogaden.

All across this region, one of the poorest of the poor, people are left to the mercies of the desert. In central Somalia, for instance, fewer than five inches of rain have fallen in the past year and a half, aid officials say. The winds are harsh, throats are dry. This area, like much of the Horn of Africa, is too arid for farming. The people here, in lonely outposts like Dagaari, survive by grazing goats, sheep, cattle and camels, selling the animals for money they use to buy food.

“But nobody wants a skinny goat,” explained Abdul Kadir Nur, a herder in Dagaari.

That was about all he had left after the drought killed 400 of his 450 animals.

Not far from the pile of goat bones is a circle of stones. It is the grave of his toddler son.

Mr. Abdul Kadir said the boy had died of hunger and that he had been placed in his grave at an angle, “so he can sleep.”

He walked a few more steps, his flip-flops digging into the crunchy earth. He arrived at Ms. Safia’s hut, where several people were peering in the doorway, watching her sweat on the dirt floor. The nearest hospital was only a half hour away, but nobody had any money to pay for a ride.

“She will most likely die,” an elder said and walked away.

Ms. Safia’s son seemed to sense that. He curled up next to his mother while he still could, his face pressed against the damp cloth that covered her. Her ribs moved up and down, up and down, in quick shallow breaths.

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