Monday, 25 August 2008

Somali fighters 'capture Kismayo'

The fighting in Kismayo has left 70 dead and wounded scores [File: AFP]

The fighting in Kismayo has left 70 dead and wounded scores [File: AFP]
Islamic fighters say they have seized control of Kismayo, Somalia's third-largest city, after three days of fighting that has left about 70 people dead and led to thousands of people fleeing.The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) said on Sunday that it had wrested control of the southern port city from clan militias a day earlier.
ICU forces moved into Kismayo at the request of its residents, and the city "will remain under Islamic control", said sheik Ibrahim Shukri, a spokesman for the ICU, which controlled the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the south for six months in 2006.
Government officials declined to comment on the claim.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia, said in a statement on Saturday that he "deplored" the recent killings and displacement of people in Kismayo.
Kismayo earningsHe said the fighting was over the control of the port's income.
The claims came after two foreign journalists - a Canadian woman and an Australian man - were kidnapped while travelling near Mogadishu on Saturday, two Somali civilians said.
Journalists and relief workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia, even those who travel in convoys heavily guarded by freelance armed men.
A report on the website of Canada's National Post newspaper identified the woman as 27-year-old Amanda Lindhout.
It quoted her father, John Lindhout, as saying she had recently arrived in the country with an Australian friend who was also kidnapped.
An official at the hotel where the two were staying in Mogadishu identified the man only as Nigel, a 27-year-old from Australia.
Their Somali translator was also kidnapped, according to reports from Mogadishu.
In Kismayo, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered by plane two tons of medical supplies to Kismayo Hospital on Saturday, said Nicole Engelbrecht, an ICRC spokeswoman.Clan loyalties
Engelbrecht said there was also fighting in Afmadow, about 110km northwest of Kismayo, during which 135 people were wounded.
She said the agency did not have details of fatalities.
Somalia has been at war since 1991, when clan-based militias ousted Siad Barre, a socialist dictator, and then fought for power among themselves.
The conflict is complicated by clan loyalties and the involvement of archenemies Eritrea and Ethiopia, who both back opposite sides in the fighting.
The last UN peacekeeping force in Somalia included American troops who arrived in 1992 and tried to arrest warlords and create a government.
The US involvement ended in October 1993, when fighters shot down a US Army Black Hawk helicopter during a battle that killed 18 American soldiers.
Since then, Ethiopian troops have helped Somalia's fragile transitional government push the Islamists from power in Mogadishu and much of the south, but failed to establish security or improve living standards.

Meeting Somalia's Islamist insurgents

In recent weeks, Somali insurgents have stepped up attacks on the Ethiopian army and the Somali transitional government it is backing.

For BBC World Service's Assignment programme, Rob Walker went in search of the Islamist movement playing an increasingly deadly role in the conflict.
In the past few weeks insurgents have taken over a series of towns, killing government soldiers, stealing weapons, and then withdrawing.
But it has become clear there are deep divisions within the insurgency over which direction it should take, with many of the recent attacks attributed to one group - a radical Islamist organisation called al-Shabab, meaning "The Youth."
Since the insurgency began, al-Shabab has rarely met Western journalists - but after protracted negotiations, one member agreed to meet me.
He is the commander of a cell of al-Shabab fighters. I am not allowed to give his name, or say where it is.

"There are al-Shabab fighters in all parts of the country," he says.
"I don't want to talk of numbers. But when the Ethiopian troops first arrived we were already strong.
"Now we have even more power because now we have the support of the people everywhere."


Like many insurgents, he headed to Mogadishu to fight the Ethiopians as soon as they entered the capital in December 2006, ousting the Union of Islamic Courts which had taken control of much of southern Somalia.
"We attacked them that same night," he recalls.
"With God's grace we defeated them in that first battle. At that time I was happy because I was hoping to become a martyr."

He adds he has two aims - to become a martyr and to ensure that the country is governed by Sharia law.
"As al-Shabab, we don't care about people who don't want Sharia law," he says.
"Our goal is to have Sharia as the permanent law of our country, and to get the infidels out of our country, whether they are Ethiopians or Americans."
His message to those Somalis who do not pray five times a day is clear.
"First of all, we will call them to return to Islam and pray - because what differentiates a Muslim and a non-Muslim is praying five times," he says.
"If they refuse we will call them again and again to pray. If they entirely refuse, we will jail them and we will keep them without food until they return to praying."

Cinema shooting

He denies that al-Shabab has any links with al-Qaeda, although he says that "they are Muslims so they are our brothers".
"Our common objective is to have Sharia law as the law of our country. Al-Qaeda wants that and we want that," he adds.

But many Somalis do not share al-Shabab's vision for an Islamic state in Somalia.
The Islam practiced in Somalia has traditionally been moderate and tolerant. Local cinemas, for example, thrive, showing Bollywood films featuring scantily-clad women.
There is no history of widespread support for radical religious movements, and this is why al-Shabab's ideology is at odds with that held by many Somalis.
But al-Shabab does not tolerate dissent.
One 25-year-old woman, who did not want her name revealed, says that in late 2006 - when the Union of Islamic Courts were still in control of Mogadishu - al-Shabab ordered a cinema near her house to close.
A young boy who was a relative staying with her family spoke out against the decision. As a result, al-Shabab soon came to look for him.

"There were many of them - they came to our house in two pick-up trucks," she recalled.
"Then two of the men came and knocked on the door. I opened it - and they said, 'bring the boy out of the house.'
"I said: 'The boy is not here'. They said: 'Bring him out.' I told them: 'He's not here.' Then they started kicking me, they kicked me to the ground.
"Then they started shooting."
"They shot me three times in the legs - one into my right leg then two into my left. It was terrible, my mother was in the house and she shouted: 'Why are you shooting my girl?'. They started beating her. They threw my mother on the ground and they kicked her."
Her legs are still badly wounded; they have been infected for a year and a half.
The cinema was closed, and those who had been using it had their heads shaved to mark them out.

And I have been speaking to people in Somalia and outside who have had relatives killed by al-Shabab.
Some were killed because they were accused of collaborating with the transitional government, or Ethiopians, sometimes in the most minor ways - one man said his brother was killed for selling phone cards to Ethiopian troops.
None of the relatives I spoke to were prepared to do an interview, all saying they feared reprisals against them or their family.
In 10 years of visiting Somalia, what is really striking is not just the growth in extremism in the country but the fear among ordinary Somalis to talk about it.


One of the most senior al-Shabab commanders is Muktar Ali Robow.
He keeps his location within Somalia secret, and constantly changes his phone number for security reasons.
When I tracked him down, he claimed that the "media is exaggerating" the killings of Somali civilians by al-Shabab.
"All we do is we kill the Ethiopians, we don't kill civilians," he said.

"We are killing the enemy of Allah, and until we get them out of the country we will continue doing so... those people who are telling you their people have been killed they are wrong.
"They are working for the Ethiopians, we never kill ordinary people."
He added that he believes people are not talking publically, not because they are afraid, but because they support al-Shabab.
"You can see that, because when the Ethiopian-backed forces of the government go somewhere, the people flee - that's because those troops rob and kill," he said.
"But wherever we go, people say "Allah Akbar." They are happy to see us."
The reality is that civilians are now trapped - between the forces of Ethiopia and the transitional government on one side and insurgents on the other



Missing Somalia journalists named

Australian photographer Nigel Brenan went missing near Mogadishu
An Australian reporter and his Canadian colleague who have been missing in Somalia since Saturday have been named as Nigel Brenan and Amanda Lindhout.
Somalia's National Union of Journalists said they had been abducted along with a Somali reporter and their driver.
A spokesman for the transitional government told the AFP news agency he believed the two were in captivity, but their whereabouts were unknown.
Abdi Haji Gobdon said the information ministry was following the situation.
The Union says it has information that the journalists are being held in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
They failed to return from a trip along with a Somali journalist, Abdifatah Elmi, and their driver, named as Mahad.

Displaced people

Nigel Brennan and Amanda Lindhout are freelance journalists working for Western media organisations.
The alarm was raised on Saturday when a security official at their hotel in Mogadishu said they had not returned from a trip to visit displaced people outside the city.
The group had set off by road in the morning and had been due to return to their hotel by noon.
When they did not come back on time, hotel staff contacted people at their intended destination, but say they were told the journalists had not been seen there.
In a statement released on its website, The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) says it "has been investigating the case of the abduction since it emerged", and is trying to discover the whereabouts of the journalists and their driver.
"No formal claim of responsibility was made and the motive for the kidnapping remains unknown... there have been no demands", the statement went on.
The NUSOJ said it received information on Sunday morning that the two Westerners and their Somali colleagues were being held by a militia in a north-eastern district of Mogadishu.
"It is not clear whether they are being held for political purposes, bargaining chips or financial purposes," the NUSOJ said, "but journalists who spoke on condition of anonymity for their security said the abduction seems [to be a] pre-planned attack."
The NUSOJ Secretary General, Omar Faruk Osman, said "we are appalled by this cruel abduction of journalists and call for the immediate release of our colleagues who are being held captive because of their noble work for the Somali people".
"We demand that those holding Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, Nigel Brenan and Amanda Lindhout free them unconditionally and immediately," he said, adding "we are worried about their safety as we have had no contact with anybody saying they are holding three journalists and their driver."

Worried parents

Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi's father, Mohamed Elmi, is trying to find out how his son is, but says he doesn't have any concrete information on the kidnappers or where his son may have been taken.
"Some of the information we are getting so far indicates that the journalists were kidnapped by freelance militias who want a ransom," Mr Elmi said.
Nigel Brenan's parents expressed their worries over their son's safety in a statement from Australia.
"We are deeply concerned that our son... may have gone missing near Mogadishu in Somalia yesterday. He is a freelance photographer who arrived in Kenya just over a week ago," the statement said.
"We understand that the Australian government is making urgent contact with relevant Somali authorities as well as the Canadian, French and British embassies to help locate Nigel."
Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, and journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently kidnapped.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Somali Children Demanding Peace

Somalia is a war torn country where the young people seriously affected by the conflicts and prolonged wars and dying for diseases and mal-nutrition, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from Mugdisho to surrounding areas as to secure themselves from the warring sides, but these people lacking humanitarian assistance after being killed and kidnapped the humanitarian workers in the Southern Somalia. Thousands of displaced people from South Somalia fled to Somaliland since last year for seeking peaceful place and Somaliland people welcomed and gave them protection and safety.

(Somali Children Demanding Peace)