Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Somali mortar attack claims lives

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence in Somalia, aid groups say [File: AFP]

At least 15 people have been killed in mortar attacks in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, local residents say.
Anti-government fighters fired artillery rounds at the presidential palace from the city's Bakara Market on Monday, prompting guards at the hilltop compund to return fire.
Witnesses said three soldiers were killed at the palace, while a dozen civilians died in the streets below. Abdinasir Said, a Bakara shopkeeper, said he saw six people blown to pieces by a mortar bomb that detonated in the market.
"We have been carrying the injured ones to safety after the shelling stopped," he said. Another man was killed in the market. Nearby, residents said a woman, her three children and a family friend were killed when another mortar bomb crashed onto their home. The barrages are the latest example of violence in Mogadishu that has displaced some 37,000 people in recent weeks, swelling an internal refugee population of 1.1 million, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said on Monday. More than 50 NGOs issued a statement expressing concern about the "devastating humanitarian crisis" and "horrendous" violence in the country. Also on Monday, a roadside bomb hit a UN car in the town of Merka, located in the Lower Shabelle region, killing its Somali driver and wounding an Italian UN employee, a UN security source said.More suffering
Aid workers say the world is shrugging its shoulders at yet more suffering in Somalia, which has been mired in civil conflict since the 1991 fall of a dictator. "Nearly half of Somalia's population, or 3.25 million people, are now in need of emergency aid. This is a 77 per cent increase since the beginning of 2008," the NGOs said. "This number has increased dramatically over the past year due to the destructive combination of extreme insecurity, drought and record-high food prices. The situation is expected to deteriorate further with ordinary Somalis bearing the brunt." UN-led efforts to broker peace have not brought any lessening of violence "that continues to have a horrendous impact on civilians," they said. "In the last few weeks, renewed shelling in Mogadishu has displaced approximately 37,000 civilians from their homes. Over the past nine months, 870,000 have fled for their lives. A total of 1.1 million people are currently displaced in Somalia today."

More vessels seized near Somalia

International warships have been sent to the Gulf of Aden to deal with ship hijackings [Al Jazeera]

In two separate incidents, armed pirates waters operating off the coast of Somalia have seized a vessel and attacked a World Food Programme (WFP)-chartered ship in the Gulf of Aden, officials say.
The vessel is a Greek chemical tanker and has 20 crew members on board, Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) piracy reporting centre, said on Saturday.
"Pirates attacked the ship flying a Panama flag using boats," he said.
Authorities in Athens, however, denied that the ship had any connection with Greece.
Piracy is rife in the busy shipping lanes near to Somalia's coast and along the Gulf of Aden, where dozens of boats have been hijacked this year.
Millions of dollars have been paid to the pirate gangs operating in the area, which is vital to shipping between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, pushing up insurance costs and threatening humanitarian supplies.Pirates were now targeting ships on the eastern side of Somalia after concentrating their attacks in the Gulf of Aden.

Nato operations
The Nato military alliance has agreed to join anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia amid growing calls for action against armed gangs which have attacked scores of vessels this year.
Seven vessels will be sent to the region, where negotiations are currently under way after one gang demanded an $8m ransom for a Ukrainian ship loaded with heavy weaponry.The UN Security Council earlier this week called on countries to send naval vessels and military aircraft to support anti-piracy efforts. The call came after European Union countries said they would launch an anti-piracy patrol, and Russia announced it would co-operate with the West in fighting the pirates.

Fresh warning
Choong of the IMB said the Kuala Lumpur-based body had issued a fresh warning to ships to maintain strict anti-piracy watch since the waters off Somalia were too wide for Western forces to provide security."As long as there is no firm deterrent, pirates will continue to attack ships. But the military cannot be everywhere since this is a wide area," he said.
Somalia's transitional government, which is under pressure from near-daily attacks by armed opposition groups, has given foreign powers the freedom to use force against the pirates.According to the IMB, 69 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January; 27 were hijacked and 11 are still being held for ransom. Pirates are holding more than 200 crew members.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Somalis flee Mogadishu gun battles

Mogadishu residents have been seen fleeing in packed vehicles or on foot

Hundreds of Somalis have fled Mogadishu after several days of heavy fighting between anti-government fighters and Somali troops, supported by the Ethiopian military and African Union peacekeepers.Witnesses said residents could be seen leaving the city aboard packed minibuses and lorries or on foot early on Wednesday
"I believe staying in Mogadishu is ... taking a risk because many civilians died yesterday and warring sides are still sharpening their swords for fresh attacks," Shamso Mohamed Ali, a mother of two, told the AFP news agency.
Fatuma Kassim, a mother-of-seven, said: "We have no hope now and I think this is the end of Mogadishu."Aid agencies say that about one million Somalis live as internal refugees.

Heavy shelling

Residents said that there was heavy shelling overnight as AU forces clashed with armed men opposed to the Somali government, as well as the presence of Ethiopian and AU forces.A group calling itself the Mujahidins of Raskamboni said that attacked one of the peacekeepers' bases sparking the fighting.
"This is the heaviest fighting ever since the AU deployed. I have seen the African Union forces using tanks"
Farah Hassan,Mogadishu residentIt was a retaliatory attack against the African forces and it was the heaviest ever waged against them," Mohamoud Dulyadeyn, a spokesman, said.
He said that his group "operates in Somali territories carrying out attacks against the enemy of Allah".At least seven civilians were killed by artillery fire in two districts of southern Mogadishu, witnesses said."This is the heaviest fighting ever since the AU deployed. I have seen the African Union forces using tanks," Farah Hassan, a Mogadishu resident, said.
"I have seen many civilians crowded in minibuses [leaving the battle zone] and there was no access to hospital for the wounded in the whole neighbourhood."Residents of the Taleh district told AFP that the shelling shattered many residential houses and set fire to a number of businesses.
Hostages removed
In another development, Ethiopian fficials and the Paris-based Medecins du Monde said on Tuesday that two foreign aid workers kidnapped in Ethiopia have been taken to central Somalia.
Local Somali authorities have sent security officials to seek the hostages' freedom from the unidentified abductors.
"We have sent security forces to search for the aid workers, who were brought to the region late yesterday," Ali Sheikh Hashi, a local official, said.
The pair, both employees of the French aid agency, were seized from Fadhigaradle village where they were visiting drought-hit areas in Ethiopia on Monday, Hareri Hassan Barre, the commissioner for the Balanbale district in central Somalia, said.
Kidnappings confirmed
Medecins du Monde confirmed the abductions, but did not give the nationality of its employees.
"The organisation is in permanent contact with the authorities, its team on the ground as well as other actors in the field," it said in a statement.
Somali fighters freed on Monday a German national and his Somali wife who had been abducted over the weekend in the northern Somali breakaway state of Puntland, where kidnapping is endemic.
Kidnappers have also been holding three journalists - a Canadian, an Australian and a Somali - since August 23 and are reportedly demanding $2.5 million for their release.Gaining strengthThe fighting in Somalia came after gun battles had broken out in several areas of Mogadishu over the weekend following an attack on the international airport as an African Union aircraft was landing. Scores of people have been killed in recent days.Anti-government fighters appear to have gained strength in recent weeks with the al-Shabaab armed group, an offshoot of the Islamic Courts' Union, which controlled much of Somalia in 2006, attacking AU bases and removing government checkpoints.Sheikh Muktar Roboow, a spokesman for the movement, has vowed that attacks against the 2,000 AU peacekeepers, many of whom are based at the airport, will be intensified
"We are going to double our attacks against the AU forces. The only option they have is to leave our country," he said. The troops were deployed in March 2007 to help Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the president, bring the nation under the government's control.

Piracy off the Somalia coast

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean has spun out of control in recent months, threatening to disrupt international maritime trade and further isolating an already agonising country.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of October 2, 61 attacks by Somali pirates have been reported since the start of the year.
More than a dozen are currently being held, including a Ukrainian cargo carrying 33 battle tanks.

A Kenya-based maritime organisation estimated the number of pirates operating along Somalia's coast at around 1,100, split into at least four groups.
Most of them are former coast guards.
The Gulf of Aden commands access to the southern entrance of the Suez Canal and is one of the world's most important trade routes.
Some 16,000 ships transit through it each year and around 30 per cent of the world's oil.
'Mother ships'
The pirates use powerful speedboats operating from "mother ships".
They have been known to attack with automatic weapons and RPGs and are believed to hold shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

They also have satellite phones and GPS systems.
Ransoms vary between several hundred thousand dollars and several million depending on the nature of the cargo and the identity of the hostages.
A recent report estimated that pirates have collected up to $30 million so far this year.
Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, with 3,700km. The waters are patroled by between 12 and 15 ships belonging to the Combined Taskforce 150, a multinational anti-terror naval coalition.
The hundreds of seafarers taken hostage by Somali pirates include French and German hostages, but mainly Asian cargo crews. Close to 100 Filipinos - who account for a third of the world's shipping manpower - are currently being held.
Threat to trade
The London-based think-tank Chatham House has warned that world trade faces major disruption if Somali piracy is unchecked and allowed to be co-opted by extremists.
The Gulf of Aden commands access to the southern entrance of the Suez Canal and is one of the world's most important trade routes.
Some 16,000 ships and around 30 per cent of the world's oil transits through it each year.
The danger has caused insurance premiums to rise tenfold in a year.
Danger too great
"If the cost of extra insurance becomes prohibitive, or the danger simply too great, shipping companies may avoid the Gulf of Aden and take the long route to Europe and North America around the Cape of Good Hope," the Chatham House report said.
"The extra weeks of travel and fuel consumption would add considerably to the cost of transporting goods" at a time when the price of oil is already putting the squeeze on world trade.
The report also warned that the threat of a major environmental disaster resulting from an attack by pirates should be considered.
Chatham House has argued that the ransom collected by pirates is perhaps used to fuel the war in Somalia and passed to the Shebab, a Muslim group listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington.