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Somalia tense after Islamists vanish

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    Ethiopian forces supporting the government have routed the Islamists, but are seen locally as occupiers. Somalia tense after Islamists vanish By Rob Crilly
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2007
      Ethiopian forces supporting the government have routed the Islamists,
      but are seen locally as occupiers.

      Somalia tense after Islamists vanish
      By Rob Crilly
      January 03, 2007
      The Christian Science Monitor

      MOGADISHU, SOMALIA – For six months Somalia's Islamists used freelance
      warlord Mohamed Qanyare Afrah's home as one of their bases as they
      took over much of the country. They used his many battlewagons and
      held meetings in his living room.

      Last week, they fled an onslaught led by troops from neighboring
      Ethiopia with Somalian government forces.

      Mr. Qanyare is grateful but only up to a point. "What I say is
      Ethiopia should not interfere in Somalian politics," he says. "They
      can stay as long as they are fighting Al Qaeda - that is a problem for
      the entire region. But if they try to become involved in our politics
      then we will oppose them."

      Ethiopia's preemptive offensive signals the opening of a new front in
      the global struggle against Islamist militants. And the speed of the
      Islamists' retreat is reminiscent of how insurgencies began in both
      Iraq and Afghanistan, say analysts. Now, victory may hinge upon
      whether warlords like Qanyare support occupying Ethiopian forces or
      the Islamists.

      For now Qanyare says his opposition to Ethiopians would be political.

      But his armored personnel carrier sits in silent threat outside his
      door. At his gate, a young boy holds a machine gun.

      And 50 of his "technicals" - pickup trucks mounted with heavy-caliber
      machine guns - sit around the corner from the whitewashed house, six
      miles from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

      Bitter rivalry with Ethiopia

      Ethiopian forces are not popular in this battle-scarred land. Many in
      Mogadishu see them as an invading force rather than a liberating
      power. This is due to a longstanding, bitter rivalry between Ethiopia
      - a country with a large Christian population - and mostly Muslim
      Somalia. The countries fought two wars in the last 45 years, and
      Somalia still lays claim to territories in Ethiopia.

      Diplomats want an international peacekeeping force to replace
      Ethiopian troops.

      But for now, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi is reliant on Ethiopia's
      tanks and artillery to keep his fractious nation in line.

      They propelled his meager government forces across Somalia and into
      the capital, which the Islamists held for more than six months,
      raising fears that an African Taliban would seek to make the Horn of
      Africa a haven for Al Qaeda.

      Some analysts warn that Mr. Gedi is not doing enough to prepare for
      the Ethiopians' withdrawal - promised in a matter of weeks.

      They warn that without the Ethiopians, his feeble government will be
      left trying to fill a political vacuum that could let in the return of
      the warlords and clan militias who held Somalia in anarchy for 15
      years - or even allow the Islamists to rise again.

      Already Mogadishu has returned to the fear and lawlessness it knew
      before the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) imposed its version of order.

      Tuesday, Gedi told journalists his foreign allies would not leave
      before their work was done.

      "The Ethiopians will leave when we have cleared our territory of
      terrorists and when we have pacified our capital," he said.

      That will take "a week, or weeks, or months, not more."

      So far he is pursuing a two-pronged strategy to promote peace.

      He has asked the African Union to send peacekeepers and has declared a
      three-day amnesty for gun owners to give up their firearms.

      There were no takers at the Villa Baidoa Tuesday - an old presidential
      villa designated as one of two collection centers.

      "We haven't even taken a pistol," said a Somalian government soldier.

      In a city where AK-47s cost $150, most families and businesses rely on
      one for protection.

      Arabey Ma'Alim Abdulle, who coordinates security in the donkey-clogged
      streets that make up Bakaara market, says he only needed a torch and a
      nightstick when the Islamists were in power.

      Now he has no intention of giving up his gun.

      Matt Bryden, consultant to the International Crisis Group, says Gedi's
      government is following the wrong strategy.

      "It should be concentrating on winning over the Hawiye clan - the main
      support base for the [Islamists] - by bringing them into some sort of
      government of national reconciliation," he says.

      "You have a state of confrontation between the Hawiye and the
      government and that's where a settlement has to be pursued," he said.
      "That means some sort of settlement that makes the Hawiye feel like
      they are part of the government."

      That would mean Gedi - himself a Hawiye but largely despised by his
      kinsmen as a weak and ineffectual leader - losing his position, which
      is not on the table, added Mr. Bryden.

      Ethiopian troops keep a low profile

      Tuesday, Somalia's Ethiopian guardians kept a low profile in Mogadishu.

      Two tanks guarded the airport runway and a contingent of soldiers was
      at the port.

      The main Ethiopian firepower is based in Afgooye, about 10 miles from
      Mogadishu, or has followed the Islamists south.

      In the south, they managed to rout the Islamist forces, forcing them
      out of their main stronghold of Kismayo. From there the Islamists have
      disappeared into the forests of Ras Kaambooni, close to the Kenyan border.

      Hussein Aideed, deputy prime minister, admits the government now faces
      a tough challenge. "To clear [the Islamists] will take a long time. It
      will not be days this time, but maybe three or four months," he says.

      Meanwhile, in parts of Mogadishu, Somalis are reverting to the lives
      they lived before Islamic law was imposed. Western music has returned
      to the Global Dancehall, where Somalis welcomed the new year.

      When the Islamists were in control, staff were forced to play
      traditional music and keep the volume down.

      Still, freedom to party won't erase the worries Somalis have about a
      return to anarchy now that the Islamists are gone. "As a businessman,
      I want stability," shouts Mustafa Haji Abdullahi, the 22-year-old
      chief operating officer of Telcom Somalia, above a blaring hit by US
      rapper 50 Cent. "I'm already back to paying bribes."

      Now everyone is waiting to see whether the government can consolidate
      its position or whether it would disintegrate under the pressure of
      Somalia's bloody history.

      "All it would take is for one Ethiopian soldier to make a mistake, to
      shoot someone, to be accused of rape, and then it is all over," says
      Mr. Abdullahi. "We would be in for another 16 years of mayhem."


      Return of Warlords as Somali Capital Is Captured
      By Xan Rice
      The Guardian UK
      Friday 29 December 2006

      Islamists retreat in face of Ethiopian tanks. Looting begins as
      control of city is reclaimed.

      Ethiopian tanks rolled into the outskirts of the Somali capital,
      Mogadishu, yesterday after Somalia's Islamist movement abandoned its
      bases in the city.

      Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies were wresting
      back control over Mogadishu as Islamist fighters, surrounded and
      outgunned, fled in convoy early in the morning towards the southern
      port city of Kismayo, the only town now controlled by the Somali
      Council of Islamic Courts. Other militiamen discarded their uniforms
      and joined clan-based militias in the capital. A number of Islamist
      leaders left the country.

      Gunfire echoed around the capital as news of the withdrawal
      spread. SCIC bases were looted and several people were killed in a
      return to the anarchy that plagued the city before the courts came to
      power six months ago. Within hours, warlords who had been driven out
      by the Islamists were reclaiming their turf, including the
      presidential palace and the city's main port.

      Somali prime minister Ali Mohamad Gedi said parliament would
      impose three months of martial law to prevent a return to anarchy. "In
      order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with
      freelance militias," he told reporters.

      The Islamists' dramatic retreat took many by surprise. Nine days
      ago they had surrounded the government base of Baidoa and controlled
      most of south-central Somalia. Despite their retreat after aerial
      assaults from Ethiopia, which is supporting Somalia's weak
      transitional government, the Islamists had been expected to defend the
      capital fiercely.

      Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, head of the SCIC's executive
      committee, told Al-Jazeera television the decision to leave Mogadishu
      was made to prevent civilian bloodshed. "We have withdrawn all the
      leaders and members who worked in the capital. Mogadishu is now in chaos."

      Mr Ahmed, who was believed to have arrived in the Kenyan capital,
      Nairobi, later in the day, said the Islamists were still united and
      would eventually repel the Ethiopian forces. But with the
      pro-government alliance entering parts of Mogadishu in the early
      evening, it appeared the courts had been dealt a severe, perhaps
      fatal, blow.

      The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, indicated that the
      military offensive, which has already claimed hundreds of lives, was
      not over. "The [SCIC] leaders, Eritreans and international jihadists
      are fleeing ... but we'll continue to pursue them - that's our agenda."

      Ethiopia has been wary of the Islamists since they come to power
      in June, defeating a coalition of warlords. The SCIC immediately
      established law and order in the capital and their leaders said they
      wanted to make the country an Islamic state. But one European diplomat
      said yesterday: "The extreme elements have not disappeared into thin
      air. They may still try to turn the country into another Afghanistan."
      The government's alliances with warlords that were ousted by the
      Islamists also left analysts uneasy. "If this just means that the
      warlords are on their way back, then it's all pretty depressing," said
      another western diplomat.

      The UN said last night it was readying a resumption of its aid
      operation in Somalia, where more than half a million people have been
      receiving emergency supplies. But many have chosen to flee. Yesterday,
      there were fears for 160 refugees after the UN agency said at least 17
      people died and 140 were missing after two boats packed with Somalis
      sank off the coast of Yemen.

      Yemeni security forces had opened fire on smugglers ferrying more
      than 500 people. Many of the survivors said they had been fleeing the
      conflict, and the UN fears the upsurge in fighting could create a new
      wave of refugees.

      What Might Happen Next?

      1. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is weak and
      largely unpopular, comes to a power-sharing agreement with the
      powerful Hawiye clan in Mogadishu and installs a functioning
      administration in the capital. Ethiopian forces withdraw. By
      negotiating with clans in Somalia's other important cities, the TFG
      begins to exert some form of central authority, putting the country on
      the path to normality.

      2. Ethiopia withdraws its troops and the TFG is unable to exert
      any real authority beyond its base of Baidoa. In the vacuum created by
      the Islamists' departure, power reverts to clan-based warlords who
      have held sway in Somalia for the past 16 years. The anarchic
      situation that existed before the Somali Council of Islamic Courts
      (SCIC) rose to power in Mogadishu returns.

      3. The remnants of the SCIC, in particular the militant Shabaab
      wing, regroup to wage guerrilla war against the government - and the
      Ethiopians, if they stay. Eritrea and other Arab states continue to
      sponsor the Islamists. Somalia becomes a magnet for foreign militants
      keen to help local fighters establish an Islamic state.



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