Somalia is far from at peace. The Ethiopian/U.S. led invasion which began just before Christmas 2006 has not resulted in the acceptance by Somalis of the Transitional Government. Attacks on Ethiopian troops as well as government officials have been constant as the civilian death toll has grown.
Today, Somalinet reports on the worst night of violence since the invasion. Correspondent Mohammed Abdi Farah reports that “At least ten civilians have been killed and about 100 were wounded in artillery explosions that rocked the Somalia capital Mogadishu on Monday night.”
After unidentified militiamen attacked a collection of targets linked to the occupation forces and the transitional government, “the Somali and Ethiopian forces reportedly fired around 20 artillery shells into Mogadishu villages leaving the death of 10 people and injury of 100 others all of them civilians, as medical sources confirmed.”
“The dead include children, women and old men whose houses were hit by artillery shells fired by the Ethiopians along with the interim government troops…In Wardhigley district, the bombs killed a pregnant woman and her three year old son.”
The impression given is that Ethiopian forces responded indiscriminately, and perhaps in panic, to a well coordinated assault on their positions. This is likely to alienate more residents of the capital from their “liberators” and to raise anti-Ethiopian sentiment still further, while the prospects for the Transitional Government seem bleak.
As Farah relates, the current level of violence contrasts with the relative calm of the short ascendancy of the Islamic Courts “which…controlled much of southern and central Somalia for six months with peace and stability.”
The overnight violence in Mogadishu comes roughly a week after an incident in the southern city of Kismayo when Ethiopian troops fired indiscriminately into a demonstration which was calling for an African peacekeeping force to be deployed in Somalia. The gunfire came after an explosion, which according to reports killed 3 soldiers. It was then that civilians were targeted by the Ethiopian military.
Elsewhere in the country, violence persists. In Baidoa – the home of the TG and not a centre for the Islamic Courts – a local journalist and radio presenter died in a hail of bullets on Friday. Ali Mohammed Omar, of Radio Warsan, “was attacked by three unidentified assailants on his way to his home. The attackers ordered him to stop and then shot him dead as he tried to flee.”
25 year-old Ali was a leading member of the nascent Union of Somali Journalists and was by all accounts an independent, popular voice. In an atmosphere of rising fear amongst journalists the Union’s secretary, Omar Faruk Osman, told AllAfrica that “We deem his killing as a premeditated attack on journalism.”
Radio Warsan had been repeatedly closed by the Transitional Government in Baidoa over the past few months.
There are also reports that the National Security Service (part of the occupation government) has imposed severe restrictions on the freedom of broadcasters to report on the violence around Mogadishu. According to Somalinet on Monday the NSS issued “strong warnings” to radio stations “ordering them not to broadcast matters in which the government see it as damaging the peace and stability in Somalia” such as the injunction “not to report on the people fleeing from the violence in the capital.”
Mohammed Abdi Farah reports that “The National Security Service officials have met with the executive directors of the three Mogadishu based FM stations like Shabelle Media Network, Horn Afrik and Banadir Radio over informing that these three stations would go under scrutiny.”
“Nor Mohamed Mohamud known as ‘Nor-Shirbow’ the deputy leader of the NSS, told the administrators of the FMs that the government is setting several conditions before the journalistic work of these stations.”
“The preconditions put forward by the government includes that the three stations; Shabelle, HornAfrik and Banadir can not put on air any military operations done by the allied forces of the interim government and Ethiopians in the capital or other parts of the country.”
Mohamud told IRIN that “We simply want them not to create panic among the population” adding that “The country is under martial law, which curtails certain liberties. They are free to report but within the current martial law.”
Confusion also remains over how many people, Somalis or foreign nationals, remain in detention charged with assisting or fighting for the Islamic Courts. British, U.S. and Canadian nationals have been flown home after embassy interventions, but other nations have struggled to glean information about their citizens. Sweden’s ambassador to Kenya, Jens Odlander, announced this week that only now, almost two months after their capture, has he discovered the whereabouts of several incarcerated Swedish nationals.
Odlander told Göteborgs-Posten that “It has been a difficult job, but we have now found the Swedes who were arrested” while, speaking of the detained Swedes, he said that “They are accused of being illegal combatants, but they have not been charged.” Sounds familiar.
Kenyan families are appealing for information about their loved ones, some of whom were captured on the Kenya-Somali border and have been moved to Ethiopia, accused of fighting for the Islamic Courts. As SomaliNet reports, the parents of the accused maintain that their sons are innocent.
Ahmed Mohamed Mo’alim, a father of one the prisoners suspected of links with Somalia’s ousted Union of Islamic Courts argued that his son was innocent…“My son was not one of the Islamists. He was a mechanic and he was helping people whose car has broken down somewhere close to the Kenyan border. There he was mistakenly apprehended by Kenyan police, who handed him over to Somalia’s transitional government and it transferred to Ethiopia.”
Over 70 people were deported by Kenya to the occupation forces in Mogadishu, where their status is now unclear. Meanwhile, Muslims in Mombasa have been protesting against the imprisonment of their coreligionists in Kenya on charges of assisting the Courts.
Shabelle reports that “Kenya’s Muslims have long complained of being marginalised by authorities, and feel they have been unfairly targeted, particularly since 1998 and 2002 attacks blamed on al Qaeda-linked militants.” Thousands gathered in the port city have been urged to disrupt an upcoming cross-country athletics event in protest.
Anger centres around the secretive imprisonment of Kenyan muslims without trial, and the rendition by plane of at least 30 of them to Somalia, an ordeal during which the prisoners were “shackled hand-and-foot.”
Somalia is becoming more violent again, after a relative lull in the second half of 2006. A contingent of African Union peacekeepers is due to be added to the mix in the next few weeks. According to IRIN, a 1,500 Ugandan force will be arriving “within days” but is unclear what good they will be able to achieve, or how they will relate to the occupying Ethiopian military.
Mogadishu has gone sharply downhill, with increasing deaths and woundings from weapons and the re-emergence of “freelance militias” manning exploitative checkpoints along major transport routes.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia, “There are reported to be around 15 such checkpoints now, at which civilians are subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation. There are similar reports coming from the Mogadishu-Johwar [north] and Mogadishu-Brava [south] roads.”
A “steady flow of IDPs [is] leaving Mogadishu in order to escape the insecurity and violence, particularly from IDP settlements located near TFG and Ethiopian military bases.”
Unknown, “brazen” attackers have been blowing up policemen, civilian vehicles and firing mortars into Ethiopian bases (which are surrounded by vulnerable displaced people). It is hard to tell who is doing what, to whom, and why, but the outcome is chaos.
Al Jazeera reports that U.S. support for this chaotic mixture of political factions and militiamen could well be institutionalized before long. An ammendment currently being slipped through the Senate (No 4526) stipulates that the U.S. government must “support the development of the Transitional Federal institutions in Somalia into a unified national government, support humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia, support efforts to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and terrorist activities, and support regional stability.” Moreover, it must also “broaden and integrate its strategic approach toward Somalia within the context of United States activities in countries of the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.”
The contradictions within this document are self-evident. Counter-terrorism as defined by the War on Terror has nothing to do with humanitarian assistance, while that war itself is ruining “regional stability” not least by empowering Meles Zenawi to assert Ethiopian power over its neighbours. What it looks likely to signal, is a deepening U.S. involvement with client militias and gangsters who can ensure that the Somali coast remains docile, oil resources can be prospected and exploited, and uranium reserves do not end up in Iran.