Somalia: pro-government militia seizes second Somali townAugust 19, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Posted in Africa | 1 Comment
Tags: Africa, al-qaeda, somalia, war in somalia
Pro-government militiamen in southern Somalia have seized a second town from rebels as President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s fragile administration seeks to crush the insurgents, witnesses said on Wednesday.
Western security agencies say Somalia, which has been torn by civil war for the past 18 years, has become a haven for militants plotting attacks in the Horn of Africa and beyond.
The international community is trying to bolster Ahmed’s U.N.-backed government, which until this week only controlled small pockets of the coastal capital Mogadishu.
Residents in Gedo region, which borders Kenya and Ethiopia, said heavily armed militiamen including the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group swept into Luuq town after seizing Bulahawa on Monday.
Local man Ahmed Mohamed said Luuq had been under the control of Hizbul Islam rebels, who fled as their foes approached.
“They have regrouped outside the town and fighting might start,” he said, adding that the pro-government militia was now occupying the strategic town’s police station.
Luuq businessman Yusuf Hure said both sides appeared to be receiving reinforcements, and that shops and markets remained closed for fear of clashes. Many residents had fled the town.
On Monday, Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca forces chased another insurgent group, al Shabaab, out of Gedo’s Bulahawa town without firing a shot. The United States accuses al Shabaab of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
On Wednesday, Somali members of parliament voted overwhelmingly to declare a state of emergency while the government. The move means Ahmed can make important decisions without having to consult parliament.
AHMED HAS U.S. SUPPORT
Violence in Somalia has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and uprooted another 1 million.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to increase Washington’s support for Ahmed’s government after meeting him Kenya, including additional funding.
The United States has sent more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunitions to the administration in Mogadishu, but it was not clear whether that had any connection with this week’s gains by the pro-government militias in Gedo region.
Washington says it sent the weaponry in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution in May that urged member states to train and equip Somali government security forces, as long as a U.N. embargo monitoring committee had no objections.
Al Shabaab and its insurgent allies have been in control of much of the impoverished country’s southern and central regions, imposing a harsh interpretation of Islam that is rejected by many Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims.
The pro-government militia says it wants to drive the rebels from the south central town of Baidoa and strategic southern port of Kismayu. A spokesman for the fighters that seized Luuq said Ethiopian soldiers had accompanied them.
“We are going to recapture Kismayu and Bay (region). There are Ethiopian troops with us,” said Isaq Huru Ali.
Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement from Mogadishu. The insurgency has raged ever since, despite the withdrawal of the Ethiopians in January.
Ethiopian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The government in Addis Ababa routinely denies its military is fighting in the anarchic country, but says that it is giving technical assistance to Ahmed’s government.