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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chaos Breeds Religious War in Somalia


Medeshi May 23, 2009
For Somalia, Chaos Breeds Religious War
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
DUSA MARREB, Somalia — From men of peace, the Sufi clerics suddenly became men of war.
Their shrines were being destroyed. Their imams were being murdered. Their tolerant beliefs were under withering attack.
So the moderate Sufi scholars recently did what so many other men have chosen to do in anarchic Somalia: they picked up guns and entered the killing business, in this case to fight back against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.
“Clan wars, political wars, we were always careful to stay out of those,” said Sheik Omar Mohamed Farah, a Sufi leader. “But this time, it was religious.”
In the past few months, a new axis of conflict has opened up in Somalia, an essentially governmentless nation ripped apart by rival clans since 1991. Now, in a definitive shift, fighters from different clans are forming alliances and battling one another along religious lines, with deeply devout men on both sides charging into firefights with checkered head scarves, assault rifles and dusty Korans.
It is an Islamist versus Islamist war, and the Sufi scholars are part of a broader moderate Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia’s increasingly powerful extremists. Whether Somalia becomes a terrorist incubator and a genuine regional threat — which is already beginning to happen, with hundreds of heavily armed foreign jihadists flocking here to fight for the Shabab — or whether this country finally steadies itself and ends the years of hunger, misery and bloodshed may hinge on who wins these battles in the next few months.
“We’re on terra incognito,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit group that tries to prevent deadly conflicts. “Before, everything was clan. Now we are beginning to see the contours of an ideological, sectarian war in Somalia for the first time, and that scares me.”
For two years, Islamist insurgents waged a fierce war against Somalia’s transitional government and the thousands of Ethiopian troops protecting it. In January, the insurgents seemed to get what they wanted: the Ethiopians pulled out; an unpopular president walked away; and moderate Islamists took the helm of the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia, raising hopes for peace.
But since then, the verdict on the moderates has been mixed. In the past two weeks, the Shabab have routed government forces in Mogadishu, the capital. The tiny bit of the city the government controls is shrinking, block by block, and Ethiopian troops have once again crossed the border and are standing by. As many as 150 people have been killed, and the relentless mortar fire has spawned streams of shellshocked civilians trudging into the arid countryside, where they face the worst drought in a decade.
If Mogadishu falls, Somalia will be dragged deeper into the violent morass that the United Nations, the United States and other Western countries have tried hard to stanch, and the country will fragment even further into warring factions, with radical Islamists probably on top.
But out here, on the wind-whipped plains of Somalia’s central region, it is a different story. The moderates are holding their own and the newly minted Sufi militia is about the only local group to go toe-to-toe with the Shabab and win.
The several-hundred-square-mile patch of central Somalia that the Sufis control is not nearly as strategic as Mogadishu. But the Sufis have achieved what the transitional government has not: grass-roots support, which explains how they were able to move so quickly from a bunch of men who had never squeezed a trigger before — a rarity in Somalia — into a cohesive fighting force backed by local clans.
Many Somalis say that the Sufi version of Islam, which stresses tolerance, mysticism and a personal relationship with God, is more congruent with their traditions than the Wahhabi Islam espoused by the Shabab, which calls for strict separation of the sexes and harsh punishments like amputations and stonings.
“We see the Sufis as part of us,” said Elmi Hersi Arab, an elder in the battered central Somalia town of Dusa Marreb. “They grew up here.”
The Sufis also tapped into an anti-Shabab backlash. The Shabab, who recruit from all clans, and, according to American officials, are linked to Al Qaeda, controlled Dusa Marreb for the better part of last year. Residents described that period as a reign of terror, with the Shabab assassinating more than a dozen village elders and even beheading two women selling tea.
“We respected the Shabab for helping drive out the Ethiopians,” said one woman in Dusa Marreb who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “But when the Ethiopians left and the Shabab kept the war going, that to us didn’t make sense.”
The Sufis, a loosely organized, religious brotherhood, also drawing from many different clans, had studiously avoided getting gummed up in Somalia’s back-and-forth clan battles, often no more than thin cover for power struggles between businessmen and warlords. But in November, Sheik Omar said, the Shabab shot dead several Sufi students. The next month, the Shabab tore apart Sufi shrines.
A spike of panic shot through the Sufi schools, where young men like Siyad Mohammed Ali were studying Islamic philosophy. “We had never told the Shabab how to worship,” he said. “But now we were under attack.”
Men like Mr. Siyad became the backbone of the new Sufi militia, which got a crate of AK-47s from one set of clan elders or a sputtering armored truck from another. In December, the Sufis, whose organization is called Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, which roughly translates as the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, drove the Shabab out of Dusa Marreb. Since then, the Sufis have defended their territory several times against Shabab incursions.
Hassan Sheik Mohamud, the dean of a college in Mogadishu, said the rise of the Sufis was “absolutely, totally new historically.”
“They had a reputation for being peaceful,” he said.
The Sufis are loosely allied to the transitional government, which has promised to rule Somalia with some form of Islamic law. The president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is a bit of an enigma, coming from a long line of Sufi clerics, yet rising to power in 2006 as part of an Islamist alliance with a decidedly Wahhabi bent. He has said that he wants women to play an important role in government, but several prominent Somali women said that during a recent meeting, he would not look them in the eye.
Many Somalis say that Sheik Sharif is making the same mistake his predecessors made, spending more time riding around foreign capitals in a Mercedes than working Mogadishu’s streets to cultivate local allies.
Out here, the Sufis are moving ahead with their own small administration, meeting with United Nations officials and running patrols. At night, in a circle under a tree, they rest their AK-47s on their Korans, drop their foreheads to the earth and pray.
“We have jihad, too,” said Sheik Omar, a tall man with a long beard and warm eyes. “But it’s inner jihad, a struggle to be pure.”

Somalia : Exodus from Mogadishu


Medeshi May 23, 2009
Somalia : Exodus from Mogadishu
Residents are streaming out of Somalia's main city, taking advantage of a lull in violence as troops battle anti-government fighters.
Intermittent fighting broke out early on Saturday in Mogadishu, died down later, only to resume in the afternoon in two neighbourhoods.
At least five civilians died and over a dozen were wounded in the clashes, the AFP news agency said.
In southern Mogadishu, two others were killed when a mortar shell landed near a cafe in the Bakara area, a stronghold of anti-government fighters.
AFP quoted Ali Musa Mohamed, a medic with an ambulance service, as saying that they had collected at least 13 wounded civilians.
An AFP reporter earlier heard an exchange of mortar and artillery fire in areas close to the presidential palace.
Residents emerged from homes to seek food, or join 49,000 others who have fled Mogadishu in the past two weeks.
"Large number of families started fleeing today from new districts and this will deepen the already worsening humanitarian situation," Ali Yasin Gedi, vice-chairman of Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation, told the Reuters news agency.
Government offensive
The deaths on Saturday come on top of the nearly 45 lives lost the previous day when government forces launched a pre-dawn offensive against the two main anti-government groups.
The aim was to drive al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam - who have pledged to topple the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed - from their Mogadishu strongholds.
Witnesses said at least four members of al-Shabab and a journalist were among the victims of Friday's clashes.


Farhan Mahdi, a Somali military spokesman, said: "This is a large military offensive against violent people.
"The government will sweep them out of the capital and the fighting will continue until that happens."
The government claimed that it had regained control of three areas of Mogadishu - Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag - as a result of the offensive.
But al-Shabab rejected the claims.
"The enemy of Allah attacked our positions this morning and our fighters are defending themselves," Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage, a spokesman for al-Shabab, said.
"They have not not taken any positions from us."
And Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, al-Shabab's leader, said his forces were still in control.
"It is clear that they have launched an attack on our positions in Mogadishu and also some of the ministers of government said that they have attacked forces on our positions," he said.
"But we won both attacks. We won over their aggression on our forces and we will continue to do so for the will of God."

Battle of Swat..Somalia offensive..Displaced Tamils

Medeshi
Battle of Swat...Somalia offensive...Displaced Tamils...
May 23 2009 12:43PMAssociated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) Pakistani security forces are fighting street battles with Taliban militants in the main urban center of the Swat Valley. The government of Pakistan is attempting to wrest the region out of insurgent hands. The military operation in Swat and surrounding districts has strong support from the United States.
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) The defense minister of Somalia is calling a government offensive against insurgents a success. But rebel forces say despite the battle the previous day, they continue to hold their positions. And residents report the government operation has failed to dislodge the insurgents.
MANIK FARM, Sri Lanka (AP) U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the government of Sri Lanka to let more aid reach displaced Tamils complaining of hunger and separation from their families. Ban flew over the scorched landscape of Sri Lanka's last battlefield; he's the first major international figure to visit the country since the government declared victory over Tamil rebels on Monday.
WASHINGTON (AP) President Barack Obama is saluting veterans and urging fellow Americans to do the same this Memorial Day weekend. In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama offers suggestions for honoring veterans. They include sending a letter or care package to troops overseas, volunteering at health clinics or taking supplies to a homeless veterans center or simply telling a veteran, "thank you."
WASHINGTON (AP) Call him a night owl. President Barack Obama tells C-SPAN that after he's had dinner with his family and tucked his daughters into bed, he typically stays up until midnight, going through a big stack of material. Sometimes he gets in some writing.

Somali justice - Islamist-style

Medeshi
Somali justice - Islamist-style
By Mohamed Mohamed BBC Somali Service
The dusty streets of Kismayo in Somalia echoed to the sound of a vehicle with loudspeakers summoning residents to a new form of public "entertainment" earlier this month.
People were being invited to see a man have his hand chopped off in a public park in the city.
The young man, Mohamed Omar Ismail, had been found guilty of stealing goods from another man's house.
That afternoon, hundreds of local people flocked to Freedom Park in order to see the amputation.
After a long wait, Mr Ismail was brought out in front of the people and an official started to read out the court decision from a piece of paper.
Clothes theft
"The Islamic Sharia court of Kismayo district confirms that Mohamed Omar Ismail has been found guilty of stealing," the official announced.
"Mr Ismail stole 10 pairs of trousers, 10 shirts, eight other items and a bag. The value of all the items is estimated to be $90."
The official quoted a chapter from the Koran known as Surah Maida, verse 38, which is about stealing and relevant punishment.
He said that the verse decreed that punishment for stealing was that the right hand of the thief should be cut off.
A local journalist who witnessed the events unfold saw a shocked-looking Mr Ismail brought into the park.
His right hand was held up to the crowds.
It was then laid on a table and severed immediately and without ceremony at the wrist.
Bloody hand dangled
The eyewitness told of his horror as the bloody body part was dangled by its index finger in front of the crowd to prove that punishment had been meted out.
Mr Ismail is now recovering from his injury in Kismayo General Hospital, where he is being guarded by the Islamist militia who punished him.
They do not allow him to talk to the media.
But according to an independent source, Mr Ismail insists he did not commit the burglary for which he lost his hand.
He said he was still appalled at what had happened to him and the terrible pain he had suffered.
Although there have been several executions and a number of public floggings meted out in the swathes of central and southern Somalia currently controlled by hardline Islamists, this is believed to have been just the second amputation this year.
Michelle Kagari, of Amnesty International's Africa programme, said: "Punishments like these illustrate the extent to which violence still substitutes for the rule of law in many areas of Somalia."
She said she wanted the United Nations to take concrete steps to stop such human rights abuses, and that an independent commission of inquiry or similar mechanism should be set up to investigate.
'Due process'
Amnesty International has also called on the fragile Somali transitional government - and the militias which currently run Kismayo and other parts of the south - to publicly condemn all human rights abuses, including punishments carried out without due process of law.
But the Somali government is more preoccupied struggling to withstand the latest onslaught by the opposition radical alliance of the Islamic party (Hisbul-Islam) and al-Shabab.
On Sunday, fighters from the al-Shabab group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, took the key town of Jowhar from government forces. A spokesman for the group said Sharia would be imposed there.
Earlier this year, the Western-backed moderate Islamist government based in Mogadishu announced the introduction of Sharia law throughout the country.
But this failed to appease the hardliners, who follow the Wahhabi school of Islam, based on a more rigid reading of Islamic texts, rather than the mainstream Sunni faith practised by most Somalis.
Alien culture
Amputations and the recent stoning to death of a 13-year-old mentally disabled girl are shocking displays of al-Shabab's interpretation of Islamic law.
And their writ extends into everyday life.
Now, women who do not wear hijab in al-Shabab-run areas are prohibited from leaving their homes.
They are instructed to cover themselves from head to toe. No part of their body is permitted to be seen in public.
This culture is alien to many Somali women, particularly those in rural areas who work in farms or herd goats, sheep and cattle.
These women work very hard under the scorching sun and wearing such dresses makes their already difficult life harder still.
But their fear of the new administrators means they have no other option but to comply.
There are reports that local women, who are not well off, are going to tailors and markets to buy these dresses.
The robes are locally known as jalaabiibs and cost between $12 and $15 (£9.70).
Amnesty International say opposition leaders in Somalia carry out punishments without any oversight or accountability.
But the harsh punishments and killings that take place are unlikely to end while the government, the Islamists and now the Ethiopians struggle to control the country.
Story from BBC NEWS:

AU calls for sanctions on Eritrea


AU calls for sanctions on Eritrea
The African Union has called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Eritrea for supporting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.
It is the first time that the AU has called for sanctions against one of its own members.
The organisation has more than 4,000 troops in Somalia supporting the fragile transitional government.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting resumed in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Saturday, reports say.
Government forces launched a fierce counter-attack on Friday in a bid to regain control of parts the city taken by militants.
Move 'unprecedented'
The BBC's Martin Plaut says the AU's call for sanctions against one of its member states is an unprecedented development.
The AU is normally reticent in any direct criticism of its membership, our correspondent says.
A statement from the 53-member organisation said the UN Security Council should "impose sanctions against all those foreign actors, both within and outside the region, especially Eritrea, providing support to the armed groups".
The AU also calls for the imposition of a no-fly zone and a blockade of sea ports "to prevent the entry of foreign elements into Somalia".
The UN has already expressed concern about the flow of arms into Somalia, where hard-line Islamists of al-Shabab and Hisbul-Islam are battling for control of Mogadishu.
Calls for an air and sea blockade of Somalia and for sanctions to be imposed on Eritrea have already been made by the East African regional grouping Igad.
With the whole of Africa now speaking with one voice the demand for sanctions can go forward to the UN, says the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the AU is based.
Somalia's neighbours hope the international naval flotilla stationed off the Somali coast will use its warships and planes to enforce the embargoes, our correspondent says.
Somalia has been subject to a UN arms embargo for many years but weapons are still freely available in the Mogadishu weapons market.
Eritrea is already suspended from Igad and could now be barred from the African Union, analysts say.
Although Eritrea denies arming Islamist forces, insurgent leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has reportedly claimed that the country supports their fight.
In an interview with Reuters news agency, he said: "Eritrea supports us and Ethiopia is our enemy. We once helped both countries but Ethiopia did not reward us."
Fierce fighting
Reports from Mogadishu said that at least 45 people were reportedly killed in Friday's fighting - more than half of them civilians - and nearly 200 wounded in one of the bloodiest days in Mogadishu for months.
Residents said there was sporadic gunfire on Saturday and feared the fighting would intensify following reports of militant reinforcements being brought in to tackle the government offensive.
Somalia currently has a moderate Islamist President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was elected by a unity government in January as part of a UN-backed peace initiative.
However, Islamists have recently gained ground and control much of the south. Last week the transitional government also lost control of about one-third of Mogadishu.
Somalia has been mired in civil war for 18 years.
Story from BBC NEWS:

House of Lords on Somalia and Somaliland


House of Lords on Somalia and Somaliland
Question
Asked By Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political and humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Somalia.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Djibouti process led to the expansion of the Somali Parliament and its selection of a new President. The formation of a more broadly based Government provides the best opportunity to create a lasting peace and reconciliation necessary for tackling the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Although that Government are battling an assault by the armed insurgency, they must continue to strive for further reconciliation with those outside the political process.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, if we are really determined to prevent the terrorists affiliated to Al-Shabaab taking over the whole country, is it not necessary to provide greater support in terms of logistics and training, both for the Government’s armed forces and for the AMISOM troops? With regard to the humanitarian crisis, is the noble Lord aware of any steps being taken through the Security Council or otherwise to meet the gap of two-thirds in the funding to meet the needs of the 400,000 people displaced internally, and a similar number in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord has repeatedly brought the question of Somalia to this House’s attention, and correctly so, because it is often
21 May 2009 : Column 1433one of those forgotten crises. About 40 per cent of the country’s population are displaced, completely dependent on international aid, and it has been very difficult to get it there. Despite the current upsurge of fighting, the distribution continues in key places such as Mogadishu, and the World Food Programme delivered something like 35,000 metric tonnes of food last month. On the noble Lord’s other point, we are also seeking to make sure that AMISOM, to which we have contributed generously, is properly supported during this crisis; and there was a move in the Security Council last week to make sure that the transitional Government’s armed forces be supported with the resources they need and to deal with this critical issue of salaries to solders and police.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is it true that the Eritrean army is yet again invading Somalia and helping the Al-Shabaab rebels? I do not know whether the Minister has any news on that. One area where we in this country have a direct interest is the offshore piracy. Is it correct that the Iranians now want to contribute through their naval resources to the anti-piracy movement? Might this not be at least one area where, despite all our disagreements with Iran on everything else, we could co-operate with it?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point, there is pretty strong evidence of Eritrean collusion in the upsurge of violence against the Government and of possible arms resupply to the rebels by the Eritreans. They were condemned in a Security Council presidential statement at the end of last week and have furiously denied the charges, but frankly that does not give me much confidence—it does not mean that the charges are not true. There is also a real risk of this situation escalating; there have been reports, again denied, of Ethiopian troops returning into Somalia. This is an enormously serious challenge to the Government and we all have reason to be very concerned to support and reinforce them over the coming weeks. I will have to get back to the noble Lord on his second point about Iran and piracy.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, given the mayhem that has characterised Somalia for so long, is there not a case for reconsidering the whole question of recognising the Government in Somaliland, the former British protectorate, which at least is stable and orderly?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, this is one of those perennial issues which, quite rightly, come up every time that Somalia lurches back into crisis. The noble Lord knows our position, which is that we try to give Somaliland support but we think that its status and potential independence must be dealt with through African forums: first, through talks between the two sides in Somalia and, subsequently, through the AU. We do not think that British recognition of Somaliland would help its goal of independence.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, we have a large Somali community in Liverpool. Has there been any contact between the Government and local authorities
21 May 2009 : Column 1434
where there are large Somali communities, to address possible tensions that might arise within those communities?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. I will look into it and ensure that information is being shared. Broadly, I do not think—although he knows better than I do—that this is a situation where our Somali British community is divided, as is the case with some other conflicts with which we have been dealing. I think that among Somalis resident here there is quite broad support for the transitional Government; indeed, one very distinguished British citizen is now the Foreign Minister.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the immensely difficult situation as he described it, a priority is to regain access for the free-standing non-governmental humanitarian agencies, which are perceived to have no political agenda of their own and are therefore in a particularly strong position to make a contribution in a fraught situation? Does he also accept that humanitarian assistance and the political dimensions are seldom in watertight compartments and that, in approaching lasting solutions, it is terribly important to listen very carefully to non-governmental organisations about what they are learning in the context of their work?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct about the critical role of humanitarian non-governmental organisations. DfID is in daily contact not just with the UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross but also with the NGOs involved, to try to work out how we can programme an additional £3.5 million of support. The NGOs are obviously suffering from the same difficulties as the UN agencies, including the huge difficulty of deploying staff there due to the dramatic security situation.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ethiopia calls U.S. human rights report "lies"

Ethiopia calls U.S. human rights report "lies"
Mon May 18, 2009
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia rejected on Monday a U.S. government human rights report published in February that accused security forces in the Horn of Africa nation of politically motivated killings.
The U.S. State Department 2008 human rights survey detailed cases of opposition members being killed and said citizens' political rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles, intimidation and arrests by the government and ruling party.
"The State Department report is based on hearsay and lies," Bereket Simon, the Ethiopian government's head of information told reporters. "We fully reject it."
Bereket said the report was based on claims from opposition parties and charities and that the Ethiopian government had not been consulted before its publication.
"We talked to Ethiopian government officials and we stand by our report," U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto, told Reuters on Monday.
Analysts say Ethiopia has been a key U.S. ally in its fight against terrorism.
The Horn of Africa's biggest military power sent troops into neighboring Somalia to topple Islamists in late 2006. The Ethiopian troops withdrew earlier this year.
"This doesn't reflect any bad relationship between us and the U.S." said Bereket. "We welcome accurate information about possible abuses in our country."
Opposition parties routinely accuse the government of harassment and say candidates were intimidated during local elections in April of last year. The government denies that.
Ethiopia last month jailed 46 men it accused of planning to overthrow the government through a series of assassinations and bombings. International rights groups have called on Ethiopia to name the accused and say where they are being held.
Ethiopia will hold national elections in July 2010.
(Editing by David Clarke and Richard Balmforth)

MAN IN THE NEWS; A Mellowed Marxist: Meles Zenawi


MAN IN THE NEWS; A Mellowed Marxist: Meles Zenawi
By JANE PERLEZ
The following article was first published on May 30, 1991 in The New York Times
When it suddenly seemed plausible a year ago that the Tigre People's Liberation Front would become the new rulers of Ethiopia, the leader of the little-known group made his first trip to Washington. The leader, Meles Zenawi, wanted to correct an impression: He was no longer a hard- line Marxist, he told columnists, members of Congress and State Department officials.
One of his Washington interlocutors was so relieved that after Mr. Meles returned to the front in the Ethiopian bush, he sent books, from de Tocqueville to tomes on the end of the cold war, to try to make sure Mr. Meles kept on the right track.
Today, the 36-year-old Mr. Meles leads the Tigrean-dominated coalition group that has taken control of Addis Ababa, and he appears to be living up to his promise last year of being broad-based and inclusive in his political thinking.
During talks in London intended to chart the future of Ethiopia, he met not only with American officials who helped engineer his victory over the Marxist Government of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but also with African diplomats and, most importantly, Ethiopians of a variety of ethnic and political backgrounds who have been nervous about his rise to power.
Site of a Famous Victory
Described as "wiry, tough, almost hyperactive," Mr. Meles was born in Adowa, in Tigre Province, a town of enormous significance to Ethiopians. It was the site in 1896 of the battle between the forces of Emperor Menelik and Italian invaders. The Emperor won, and though the Italians remained in the province of Eritrea, the victory insured that Ethiopia, unlike other countries on the African continent, would not become a colony. Tigre Province itself is considered the heartland of Ethiopia's 3,000-year-old civilization.
So Mr. Meles has been flattered in recent days by Washington officials who have told him that since he is a Tigrean he can be considered a founding father of the nation.
"The Tigreans are deeply rooted people, very sophisticated culturally and linguistically," a Washington official said.
Few details of Mr. Meles's upbringing are known, aside from the fact that his parents were of peasant origin, belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and became petty traders in Adowa. He went to one of the best schools in Addis Ababa, Wingate High School, where he presumably learned his English. He entered Addis Ababa University in 1973 as the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie was crumbling. The campus became a focus of political unrest, and many students, like Mr. Meles, joined the so-called "intellectual Marxists" faction, opposing the "military Marxists," among them Colonel Mengistu. 'An in-the-Bush Outfit'
One of his colleagues in the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the coalition that Mr. Meles now heads, said Mr. Meles was studying to become a doctor. But like many others in his class, he dropped out, became enamored with Marxism and according to Paul Henze, a specialist on Ethiopia at the Rand Institute, he set up the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigre.
"It was an in-the-bush outfit," Mr. Henze said. "Meles lived in the countryside. Intellectually they thought of themselves as Maoist Communists swimming like fish in the countryside."
The league became the heart of the Tigre People's Liberation Front, which in turn received some help from the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, a guerrilla force that had been fighting for Eritrean independence from Ethiopia since the early 1960's. The Tigrean and Eritrean groups fell out with each other in 1984 but patched up their relationship in 1988, a factor that gave a significant military and organizational boost to the Tigreans.
Precisely when or how Mr. Meles pushed himself to the top post of the Tigre Front is not clear. But American negotiators say that in contrast to Isaias Afwerki, the leader of the Eritrean Front, Mr. Meles has clear authority, makes the decisions without a great deal of consultation and at the same time seems to keep his senior colleagues happy.
Good Strategic Sense
American officials said Mr. Meles appeared to have a good strategic sense, declining at times to take government centers when it was militarily possible to seize them but not possible to defend them. The Americans also said they were reassured that in the last two years, as the military victories of the Tigrean rebels mounted, they dropped their earlier habits of lecturing the peasantry on Marxism and in fact encouraged them to dismantle the collective organization of agriculture forced on them by the Mengistu Government.
As American negotiators worked on nudging President Mengistu out of office and viewed Mr. Meles as at least an interim leader, they met him in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, where he an office, a tedious three-day car journey from rural Tigre. But even from his military headquarters in Tigre, Mr. Meles was available to Washington by satellite telephone.
Mr. Meles was said to have left London today, but a local policeman dropped by the headquarters, littered with newsletters and photographs of the past Government's bombing raids, to ask what all the excitement was about.
"Well, yesterday we were rebels," one of the workers explained. "Today I suppose we are the Government."

Somali government launches new offensive

Somali government launches new offensive
The latest battle comes as government forces try to regain territory that militants seized last week.
By Arthur Bright
A daily summary of global reports on security issues.
Several people are dead and dozens wounded in the Somali capital of Mogadishu as Somali government forces launch a new offensive against the Islamist rebels who have been in control of the region.
The BBC reports that the Friday's battles are the latest in 10 days of fighting between government forces and two militant groups, Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam, which have left more than 100 civilians dead. The new fighting is over territory seized from the government last week by Islamist rebels.
The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan, in Mogadishu, says the pro-government forces have launched a massive military offensive against the insurgents.
Most of the fighting is focusing around one of the city's main roads, Wadnaha, he says.
African Union peacekeepers based in the capital to support the fragile administration are not involved in the attack, he adds. The 4,300-strong force does not have a mandate to pursue the insurgents.
Somalia's Western-backed government and Islamist rebels have been fighting for control over the country for almost two decades. The rebels seized control of Mogadishu in 2006, but were ousted by Ethiopian soldiers, fighting on behalf of the Somali government, later that year. However, the Ethiopian forces withdrew in December 2008, and a new unity government was formed in January under transitional President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. But while the moderate Mr. Sharif agreed to institute Islamic law, or sharia, in Somalia to appease hard-line Islamists, the rebels remained opposed to the government and have since been making strides to retake the capital.
The Associated Press reports that the government's military commander, Lt. Yusuf Osman Dumal, said Friday's fighting started when the rebels attacked government positions. Mogadishu residents, however, said that the attack appeared to be a planned government offensive.
Resident Abdi Haji said hundreds of government troops had attacked positions held by Islamist fighters in the south and north of the Somali capital. He said there was heavy shelling around Wadnaha road, which the government lost to Islamist fighters earlier this month. Wadnaha connects the north and south of the city and is one of the four major roads in Mogadishu.
Agence France-Presse writes that government and Islamist spokesmen disagree about the success of government forces in Friday's fighting.
[Government military spokesman Farhan Mahdi Mohamed] said one soldier was wounded and claimed government forces had regained control of three areas of the capital – Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag – previously held by the insurgents.
A spokesman for the rebels, who call themselves the Shebab or Party of Youth, denied the claim.
"The enemy of Allah attacked our positions this morning and our fighters are defending themselves. They have not taken any positions from us," said Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage.
AFP adds that its reporter saw at least two dead bodies, and independent news station Radio Shabelle said that one of its reporters was killed in the fighting. The National Union of Somali Journalists, condemned the death of the reporter, Abdirisak Warsameh Mohamed, in a press release.
Reuters writes that the death toll is much higher, at 15 at least, and that some of those killed were Islamist rebels, according to residents' accounts. Those accounts also appear to support the government's claim that it had recaptured several parts of the city.
"I saw masked men running away carrying the bodies of four of their friends," Halima Osman, a mother-of-three who lives in the city's sprawling Bakara Market, told Reuters.
"We were surprised to see men in government uniforms fighting in Bakara. They have recaptured four police stations between here and the palace, and they are advancing further." ...
"They have surrounded Bakara Market, al Shabaab's biggest stronghold in the city. We hope for the sake of peace that the government forces do not retreat later," one local man said.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports that casualties were "streaming into hospitals." "We have admitted 12 wounded since this morning, but the casualties keep coming hour by hour," Dahir Dhere, of Medina Hospital, told the German news agency.
Though there are no reports of Ethiopian troops being involved in the fighting in Mogadishu, it is noteworthy that the fighting comes after recent evidence that Ethiopian forces are present in Somalia once again. The Christian Science Monitor wrote earlier this week that Somali witnesses say they have seen Ethiopian troops well inside Somali territory, though their purpose there was unclear. But experts believe it is no coincidence that they have entered Somalia amid the Islamist rebels' military successes in the last couple weeks.
"Ethiopia does go in and out of Somali territory, but with reports of the impending collapse of the Somali government by Islamist militias, I gather that Ethiopia would keep a close eye on matters," says Iqbal Jhazbhay, an expert on Somali politics at the University of South Africa in Tshwane, formerly known as Pretoria.

A sailing-mad German’s Somali odyssey


Medeshi May 22, 2009
A sailing-mad German’s Somali odyssey
DAWN —On June 23 last year, Kantner and his wife Sabine Merz were steering their modest sailing yacht through Somali waters when armed pirates captured them and brought them ashore to a mountain hideout.
After being subjected to deprivations and mock executions during their 52-day hostage ordeal, the pair are back in what is considered one of the most dangerous countries on the planet to reclaim their ship, the Rockall.
‘My boat is my life and I don’t want to lose her, nothing more. I don’t care about pirates and governments,’ Kantner said while taking a break from his repair work in Berbera, the main port in Somaliland.
The Rockall’s hijacking was a rare case of a ship being captured by pirates in the waters of Somaliland, a northern breakaway state which has generally been more stable and prosperous than the rest of Somalia.
But the stretch of land facing the location of the hijacking is disputed by Puntland, a neighbouring breakaway region which is home to most of the pirates groups that are preying on the world’s merchant fleets.
European tourists are few and far between in the troubled region and the couple, who live on their boat in the harbour, are perceived as odd birds by the local population.
‘They think that I’m insane, they call me the crazy white guy or the mad German sailor but they don’t know how important my boat is to me,’ he said.
Sipping sweet white tea with his wife and a German-speaking Somali friend at a cafe near the harbour, Kantner appears in no danger of suffering from the Stockholm syndrome.
‘It was my worst experience ever. It was really painful and they were intimidating us the whole time,’ said the burly German, sporting a wild head of thick white hair.
‘One day I said to them I hoped a plane would bomb us all to bits, so that we all die together,’ he said.
The couple was released in August 2008. A ransom of 600,000 dollars is believed to have been paid but Kantner declined to elaborate on the circumstances of his release.
Concerned with nothing in this world but his wife and the sea, Kantner admits to being of slightly bearish disposition and has few kind words for the ‘clumsy local mechanics’ or ‘the German officials who resent my presence here.’
‘I have no friends back home because I lost contact in 32 years living on my boat. Why should I go back to Germany where I have nobody to help me? This is my life and it’s wonderful. I have all my things on my boat and I travel to many places in the world. Sailing is how I want to live and die,’ he said, removing his reading glasses to gaze at the sea.
When asked if his end might not come sooner than expected if he tries to sail through the Gulf of Aden again, he admitted he needed to devise a strategy to dodge the region’s fast-breeding ransom-hunters.
‘I will start sailing soon after I finish mending the boat,’ he said, clambering over small fishing nets and oily engine parts littering the deck of the Rockall, anchored between two Somaliland navy ships.
‘I know it’s dangerous sailing off into Somali waters and I have no private security guarding me but I pray to God that pirates won’t get me again. It’s a little bit like suicide,’ Kantner said coldly.
‘Of course, buying a gun is an option but I haven’t decided yet.’The German was critical of the international navies’ approach to dealing with Somali pirates: ‘If you catch one, chop his hand off. If he tries to escape, shoot to kill. Sharia (Islamic law) is a punishment they understand.
Somalia’s marauding buccaneers have captured some 50 ships since Kantner’s first mishap, most of them merchant vessels.
A French family on a world sailing tour was also snatched earlier this year and the father accidentally shot dead by French commandos meant to rescue them.
For obvious reasons, Kantner refused to reveal anything about how he intends to sail safely out of the ever-widening zone affected by Somali piracy and reach his next destination: Malaysia.
‘If I get there safely, me and my wife will take a week-long holiday, just resting. And I really hope the pirates don’t catch me because this time no-one will pay and everybody will tell the pirates: ‘Keep him.’ — AFP

Igad wants Eritrea punished over chaos in Somalia


Medeshi
Igad wants Eritrea punished over chaos in Somalia
(Photo: Motorists push a car in flood waters after torrential rains in southern Mogadishu. )
The UN was on Thursday asked to act to save the Somalia’s fledgling government from Islamist militants.. Photo/REUTERS
By DAVE OPIYO in Nairobi and ARGAW ASHINE in Ethiopia Posted Thursday, May 21 2009 at 23:00
The UN Security Council was on Thursday asked to impose tough sanctions on the Eritrea for calling for the ouster of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The Inter Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Council of Ministers further urged the Security Council to impose an immediate air and maritime blockade on Somalia to stop the inflow of weapons into the war-torn country.
The decision was reached on Thursday by the ministers at an extraordinary meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which had been called to discuss the prevailing political and security situation in Somalia. In a communiqué, the Eritrean Government was further accused of calling for the attacks on the African Union Mission in Somalia, which the council members declared ‘acts of aggression.’
Acts of aggression
“We condemn in the strongest terms possible all the individuals, organisations and countries, in particular the Government of Eritrea and its financiers, who continue to instigate, recruit, train, fund and supply the criminal elements in and or to Somalia,” read the communiqué.
It went on; “These are acts of aggression against a sovereign country and legitimate government forces. We are therefore calling upon the UN Security Council to act tough and impose sanctions on the Eritrean government without any delay.” Some of the sanctions proposed include travel bans and freezing of assets, against all those in and outside Somalia who had become obstacles to the achievement of peace to the war torn country.
Eritrea had been withdrawn from Igad in 2007 after describing the regional bloc as “inefficient”. Kenyan Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula, later on told the Nation in Addis Ababa that there was ample evidence to show that Eritrea was backing Somalia Islamists.
And he declared that all the Igad country members would respect and abide by all the proposal. Somalia has been experiencing intense fighting between forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government and the opposition Al-Shabaab and Hizb-ul-Islam groups since in several north-west areas of Mogadishu since May 8.
The heavy fighting in the country considered one of the world’s biggest refugee producing areas, has led to the deaths of many civilian and has sparked a new wave of displacement leading to a humanitarian disaster. Recent statistics from the UNHCR indicate that despite a lull in fighting in Mogadishu, the number of people fleeing the Somali capital in the last two weeks had now risen to 45,000.
But on Thursday, the Igad Council of Ministers meeting, which was chaired by Ethiopian Foreign Affairs minister, Mr Seyoum Mesfin, condemned the acts of the Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam (Islamic Party) militia and other such groups and warlords who continued to wage destructive wars in Somalia.
“The current aggression in Somalia that had resulted to numerous deaths and displacements is uncalled for. This has partly been exacerbated by an influx of foreign armed aggressors on Somalia,” added the communiqué. It went on, “We recognise the fact that the assailants have used porous of Somalia especially the airports at KM 50 and KM 90 to receive supplies of arms and ammunition.”
And due to this, the ministers consequently once again urged the UN Security Council to impose a no fly-zone, except for humanitarian purposes, which were only authorised by the government on a number of airports, to curb the supplies of arms and ammunition. The airports listed included those in Kismayu, Baidoa, KM 50, Balidoogle, Waajid, Hudur, all airports in Gedo Region, Isaley and Johwar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Somali diplomat gives up Kenyan passport

Somali diplomat gives up Kenyan passport
By NATION Reporter Posted Wednesday, May 20 2009
A Kenyan passport issued to Mr Hassan Sheikh Aden Issak has been withdrawn. Immigration and Registration of Persons minister Otieno Kajwang’ said the Somali diplomat had become a Kenyan citizen by registration when he was issued the passport.
However, Sheikh Aden was appointed a diplomat when the Somali government was installed. “We realised he had a Kenyan passport when his name registered in our systems when he returned to the country, and withdrew it. He had not even renounced his Kenyan citizenship,” Mr Kajwang’ said.
Dual citizenship
The minister told the Nation in his Nyayo House office in Nairobi that Sheikh Aden’s children had also become Kenyan citizens. He said since the law currently does not allow dual citizenship, his ministry usually confiscates Kenyan passports.
Mr Kajwang’ said his ministry also discovered a number of Somalis who had acquired genuine Kenyan travel documents as they were just about to board a plane to their destinations. “We refused them exit after we realised they were not Kenyans but Somalis from Somaliland.” Somaliland is an autonomous region in Somalia.
The minister said his ministry was facing challenges using birth certificates and national IDs as primary documents for the issuance of national passports. Following reforms in the ministry, Mr Kajwang’ said, it now took three days for one to renew a passport, and 14 days for fresh applicants to acquire one.
He said it took 20 days for applicants in Nairobi to acquire national ID cards, 30 days for those living in non-border areas and 40 days for those coming from border regions. The minister regretted that many eligible Kenyans were yet to apply for national IDs even though there was no backlog.
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