Monday, 27 September 2010

More Than 350 People Killed in Somalia in Recent Weeks

Written by  Hussein Moulid Bosh

Fighting in Somalia over the past weeks between the transitional government and the Muslim insurgent group al-Shabaab has cost more than 350 civilian lives with at least 450 people wounded and 23,000 displaced.

People who have been able to reach northern Somalia and neighboring countries are leaving. Most arrive on foot and on small buses, traveling without shelter in an exodus that began when the holy month of Ramadan started.

The streets of Mogadishu are completely deserted, and people are too afraid to leave their houses. In these dangerous and difficult conditions, aid distributions are becoming rare.

Making matters worse is the fact that fleeing Mogadishu has increasingly become more dangerous and difficult. People are giving away their remaining possessions for a seat on a bus out of the city. As they leave Mogadishu they face new risks and difficulties en route to neighboring areas, such as Puntland in the north (a region in northern Somalia declared an autonomous state in 1998) or Ethiopia and Kenya to the west and south.

The collapse of the state, spiraling violence and anarchy, compounded by poverty, has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and unacceptable suffering of the civilian population.

Civilians often get caught in the crossfire when rebels and Somali government troops, backed by African Union/UN forces lob mortar shells at each other over occupied areas such as the busy Bakara market in northern Somalia.

Somalia generates the third-largest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq, according to UN. At the end of August, there were more than 614,000 Somali refugees and over 1.4 million people displaced within the country.

Clashes between the rival groups, which have been fighting since 2007, intensified on August 23, when al-Shabaab declared a new offensive to overthrow President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

Heavy clashes broke out between al-Shabaab fighters and pro-government Somali troops and African Union forces after al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamoud Rage Ali Dhere declared what he called the final phase of the group's war against "invaders” — the African Union troops.

The clashes on that day left at least 38 people dead and 100 others injured after shelling rocked the famous Bakara market.
The next day, al-Shabaab attacked a hotel in the capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 32 people including 15 members of parliament and injuring dozens of others.

On September 9, two suicide car bombers detonated their explosive-laden cars at Mogadishu’s main airport, killing many people.

The Somali government and the 7,000-man African Union force that protects Somalia's weak government gave slightly differing accounts of the attack, though they agreed on the broad outlines.

After the suicide car bomber exploded at the front gate, 500 yards (meters) from the terminal, between two and four suicide bombers exited a second vehicle and battled security forces.

Major Barige Ba-Hoku said two militants blew themselves up as they tried to reach the airport terminal, "Two suicide bombers, dressed in TFG combat uniforms, ran from the vehicles firing small arms. Both managed to run at speed through the gates, under fire from AMISOM soldiers," he said, adding, "Both were brought to a halt within 200 meters (yards) of the terminal building where they exploded their IED (improvised explosive device) vests."

On September 23, at least 27 people were killed, including a Ugandan peacekeeper, and 78 others injured in fresh clashes that rocked Somalia’s war-torn capital, Mogadishu. Fierce gunbattles and shelling rocked Mogadishu's northern districts of Hodan and Hawlwadag, where fighters from al-Shabaab and rival faction Hizbul Islam attacked positions of pro-government forces backed by African Union peacekeepers.

At present, the insurgents are controlling the south of the country and most of its capital Mogadishu.

On September 17, the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) whose African Union forces have been accused of deliberate shelling of civilians in the Somali capital Mogadishu announced the launch of two new humanitarian aid initiatives that it says are aimed at easing the humanitarian situation in Somalia. Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, said, “It will involve the provision of medical supplies and clothing to an estimated 1,300 Somalis taking refuge around AMISOM camps in Mogadishu.”

Asked if AMISOM has measures in place to bring charges against those who were responsible for the death of civilians as results of indiscriminate shelling by their troops, Wamunyinyi failed to identify any tangible effort but said, “We are doing everything possible to minimize civilian casualties. Shabaab and other organizations are not doing that. We take caution [so that] this is minimized.”

On September 15, a top UN rights official called for an investigation into allegations that African Union peacekeepers have been engaged in indiscriminate shelling of civilians. UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang said both the UN and AU should urgently respond to the allegations.

Speaking to the press in Kenya’s capital Nairobi after returning from a three-day visit to Somalia, Kyung-wha said her visit to parts of the war-ravaged nation offered perspective of the population and its stand on the ongoing crisis.

When questioned as to whether the AU/UN can solve the horn of Africa country’s crisis, Kyung-wha Kang failed to reply.
The question remains, “How can the UN help?” More than hundred UN workers whose job it is to build peace in the chaotic country of Somalia are based in Kenya. Some said they can’t go to such a risky place as Somalia.

When interviewed, one Somali government official, Abdirizak Ahmed, who is based in Kenya, said, “The UN and AU have benefitted through the contracts that they signed with the international community to bring peace in Somalia, but they failed to [bring peace]. Apart from that, hundreds of UN workers who are supposed to work in Somalia’s capital were based here in Kenya, so how can they recognize what is happening there?” He added that it is good to “experience what Somali civilians suffer. Then I’m sure action will be taken against the crisis.”

But it is doubtful that the action would accomplish much. Nominal UN control of Afghanistan and Iraq has made those countries dangerous place for Western troops and Afghani or Iraqi civilians alike. Suicide attacks, roadside bombings, and political assassinations increased in the first four months of 2010. What would be different about Somalia?

The collapse of the state, spiraling violence and anarchy, compounded by poverty, has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and unacceptable suffering of the civilian population.

As the death toll mounts, al-Shabaab threatened to finalize what it called holy war —jihad — against the transitional federal government backed by the African Union peacekeeping forces.

In a phone interview with The New American, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamoud Rage Ali Dhere said they “will still continue fighting with the Somali government and their infidels — AU/AMISOM.”

“We are against the one who is not obeying Allah. [The] Somali government has requested support from America — the infidels who tried to burn our holy book of Qur’an.”

Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic, began as part of the armed wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) when the courts rose to power in Mogadishu in 2006. The 2006 Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia routed the ICU and sent its leaders into exile, but a hard core of al-Shabaab fighters and commanders remained in the country to continue the fight. Since then, they have steadily emerged as the most powerful and effective armed faction on the ground, especially in southern Somalia. Initially, they benefited from significant public support as the only group mounting serious resistance to the unpopular Ethiopian military presence. It is claimed that they receive material support from the Eritrean government, which is eager to undercut rival Ethiopia’s interests in Somalia and throughout the region.

The anarchic Horn of Africa nation has lacked an effective central government since the overthrow of a dictator in 1991. Since then warlords and now Islamist rebels have run amok.

Hussein Moulid Bosh is a Kenyan-born Somali freelance journalist, covering stories around East Africa and also the Horn of Africa countries, especially Somalia.

Photo of aftermath at Mogadishu airport: AP Images

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