January 06, 2007
Peace Force Proposed for Somalia as Al-Qaida Threatens
By SAHAL ABDULLE and GULED MOHAMED, REUTERS, MOGADISHU
Western and African diplomats on Jan. 5 called for the urgent deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia as al Qaeda’s deputy leader urged defeated Islamists to launch an Iraq-style insurgency against Ethiopian forces there.
The Islamists took control of much of southern Somalia in June but have now been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds by Ethiopian military defending Somalia’s interim government in two weeks of full-scale warfare.
They have vowed to fight on, melting into the hills in Somalia’s remote southern tip where Ethiopian and government forces are hunting hundreds of their fighters.
Nairobi has sent troops to seal its frontier, blocking entry to Somali refugees fleeing the conflict. Many fear the Islamists, who fled a last stronghold on New Year’s Day, will mount a holy war against largely Christian Ethiopia.
"You must ambush, mine, raid and (carry out) martyrdom campaigns so that you can wipe them out," Ayman al-Zawahri, deputy to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said in his message.
"As happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the world’s strongest power was defeated by the campaigns of the mujahideen, troops going to heaven, so its slaves shall be defeated on the Muslim lands of Somalia," he said.
Al-Zawahri’s message, posted on a Web site used by militant Islamist groups, is likely to reinforce Washington’s belief that the Somalia Islamic Courts Council is linked to and even run by an al-Qaida cell, a charge the Islamists have denied.
In Nairobi, the International Contact Group on Somalia, which includes the United States, European and African nations, pushed for a fast deployment of foreign peacekeepers approved by the United Nations before the war.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the security vacuum had to be filled, but played down the significance of the al-Qaida tape.
"I think a lot of bold statements were made by extremists in the Courts, that they were going to kill Somalis, that they were going to stand and fight ... and they just ran," she said.
A general seen as a contender to lead the Pentagon’s Africa operations said he did not expect U.S. troops to go to Somalia.
"Situations change but I do not see it now, and there’s nothing that I’ve heard that implies that at all," said Gen. William Ward, deputy commander of U.S. European Command and a former brigade commander in Somalia.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his troops would leave within two weeks. Analysts fear the interim Somali government will flounder without Ethiopian protection. The government wants a peacekeeping force to move in fast.
Uganda says it is ready to send troops as soon as its parliament approves. A disastrous attempt by U.S. forces to pacify Somalia in the early 1990s ended with a hasty withdrawal. "Our peacekeeping is different from these Western countries," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said. "The Western countries do not listen carefully. They are full of themselves, they think they know everything. That’s why they make mistakes."
Within hours of the Islamists leaving Mogadishu, militiamen loyal to warlords ousted in June reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorize civilians.
On jan. 4, gunmen attacked a truck carrying oil near Mogadishu, raising fears of a return to the clan violence that had largely stopped during six months of Islamist rule.
Despite a government deadline for residents to hand in their weapons or be forcibly disarmed, few guns have been collected.
"People are asking to be paid money to hand over their weapons and are asking us if we can guarantee their security," Interior Minister Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed told reporters. He said it was unlikely forced disarmament would begin soon and called on the warlords to go to the government’s seat Baidoa.
"The population of Mogadishu does not want them," he said.
Kenya’s closure of its border crossing points has left hundreds of Somalis unable to cross to seek refuge at camps, aid workers say. A Kenyan police chief said several suspected fighters had been taken to Nairobi for questioning.
An international naval force, including U.S. warships, is patrolling the Somali coast to hunt fleeing Islamists.
"As far as chasing down the terrorists goes, I think they are cornered and we will see what happens," Frazer said.