Friday, January 29, 2010

Civilians Killed in Somalia Clashes; Djibouti to Deploy 450 Troops

Friday, January 29, 2010
11:44 Mecca time, 08:44 GMT

Civilians killed in Somalia clashes

Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the shelling on Friday

At least nine people, mainly civilians, have been killed in fresh fighting in the Somali capital, witnesses and medics have said.

Anti-government fighters clashed with African Union peacekeepers and government troops in southeastern Mogadishu in the early hours of Friday, resulting in the deaths.

"Around seven civilians died in the clashes, including women and children. Most of them were killed by mortar shells and stray bullets," Abdi Adan, an eyewitness, told the AFP news agency.

"Four civilians died in Wardhigley district and three others were killed in Holwadag and Bakara area. It was the worst fighting we have seen recently," Mohamoud Ahmed, a local resident, said.

Ali Musa, head of Mogadishu's ambulance services, said medics had collected around 22 injured from several locations in the city and "several people" had died.

"I don't have the full figures but I know that three of the dead are a mother and her two children," he said.

Responsibility claim

The armed group al-Shabab, whose leader late last year proclaimed his allegiance to al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, issued a statement claiming responsibility for Friday's shelling.

"Our holy warriors launched a fierce offensive on several locations in Mogadishu where the apostate militias and their Christian backers were stationed," the group said.

It referred to government troops, who they accuse of being puppets of the West, and to AU peacekeepers who they routinely describe as crusaders bent on introducing Christianity to Muslim Somalia.

In the statement, al-Shabab said two of its fighters had died in the clashes.

Somali government officials were not able to provide more details on the casualties.

"The violent elements attacked government positions overnight, firing mortar rounds and machine guns. The government forces defeated them," Abdullahi Hassan Barisse, a police spokesman, told reporters.

The densely-populated neighbourhoods where the fighting took place, halfway between the airport and the port, is on the edge of an area controlled by the African Union peacekeeping mission (Amisom).

Civilians there are often caught in the crossfire between Amisom troops and al-Shabab.

The clashes marred plans to celebrate the first anniversary of the election of Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president.

Officials had been preparing for celebrations in the presidential compound's theatre on Friday.

Source: Agencies

Friday, January 29, 2010

Djibouti to boost AU peace mission in Somalia

Nigerian Guardian

AUTHORITIES in Djibouti have planned to send 450 soldiers to Somalia possibly next month to boost the African Union (AU) peace mission that is protecting the fragile Western-backed government.

The move came as Somali gunmen yesterday hijacked a Cambodian cargo ship, the MV Layla-S, off Berbera after it unloaded at the port in the breakaway northern enclave of Somaliland.

Uganda and Burundi each have 2,500 peacekeepers in Mogadishu with the AU's AMISOM force in Mogadishu.

Its soldiers come under near-daily attacks from roadside bombs and rebel artillery. The force is struggling to raise its numbers beyond the 5,000 troops already present in the anarchic nation that has had no functional central government since 1991.

"We are preparing our troops. We are training them so that they can carry out their mission in a very efficient way," Djibouti's Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union foreign ministers' meeting.

Youssouf said he hoped his country's contribution would inspire others to do the same.

"Somalia is a neighbouring country. We have a very close relationship. We can see what is going on there and we have to contribute as Africans," he said.

Since the beginning of 2007, fighting between pro-government militia and the Islamist al Shabaab group - which Washington terms as al Qaeda's proxy in the region - has killed more than 21,000 Somalis and driven 1.5 million from their homes.

Separately, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said in a speech that Somalia's best hope was its transitional government and urged the international community to implement their pledges for aid.

International donors pledged $213 million at a conference in Belgium about a year ago, but Somalia's government complains that only a small proportion has so far been delivered.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, the eight-year-old boy whose bullet-shattered face personified the brutal conflict in Somalia and drew offers of aid from around the world, has died in Kenya days after a reconstructive surgery.

Dr. Peter Nthumba said Ahmed died late Wednesday of intestinal bleeding that may have been caused by an ulcer or stress. Nthumba operated on the boy, whose face was almost entirely blown off in September when a bullet hit him in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Relatives and well-wishers said they were shocked by the sudden death of Ahmed, a cheerful child who liked playing with a toy helicopter and spent time reading the Quran in his hospital bed. Doctors said he had not show any sign of ailment before the operation, which had gone well.

His heartbroken mother, Safi Mohamed Shidane, said that she had not expected her son's life would end.

The UN Security Council voted yesterday unanimously to authorise the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia to stay for another year and urged it to boost its strength to 8,000 troops.

Deployed in March 2007, the force known as AMISOM fields 5,300 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers and is currently charged with protecting strategic sites in the seaside capital such as the presidency, the port and the airport.

The 15-member council empowered AMISOM to stay until January 31, 2011 and asked it "to increase its force strength with a view to achieving (its) originally mandated strength of 8,000 troops, thereby enhancing its ability to carry out its mandate in full."

The mandate expires on Sunday.

The council resolution also directed the force to continue assisting Somalia's transitional government in developing the Somali Police Force and the National Security Force, and to help integrate Somali units trained by other UN member states or organizations inside and outside Somalia.

Earlier this month, the 53-member African Union renewed AMISOM's mandate for six months.

Somalia's internationally-backed transitional government has been boxed into a tiny perimeter in its capital Mogadishu by an insurgency launched in May 2009 by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab group and its more political Hezb al-Islam allies.

It has owed its survival largely to AMISOM.

The force's top civilian official reassured the wobbly government of its total support in the fight against insurgent groups.

Insurgents accuse AMISOM of being an occupying force bent on introducing Christianity to Moslem Somalia. The force has also been criticised for killing scores of civilians during retaliatory shelling.

Somalia has had no effective government since President Mohamed Siad Barre was forced out of power in the early 1990s.

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