Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Deadly clashes mount in Mogadishu," The News (Pakistan), January 17, 2007.

MOGADISHU: Somali gunmen battled government and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu’s heaviest fighting since the ouster of Islamists last month as the fledgling adminstration silenced four broadcasters on Monday for allegedly fomenting unrest.

At least two people died in a gunbattle between forces and rebels in southern Mogadishu, the Islamists’ traditional stronghold, while a policeman was gunned down when a gang raided a cache of weapons he was guarding. The deaths underscored the scale of the task facing President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed’s weak interim government, which was only able to supplant the Islamists with the aid of the Ethiopians. As many Somalis seethe at the presence of Ethiopian troops on their streets, Addis Adaba tried to explain its intervention to other African states and urge them to help make a planned peacekeeping force a reality.

Witnesses said rockets and mortar shells were used in the overnight battle. “After the fighting, I saw two bodies, both of them men killed near a pasta factory,” said Munina Ismail. “An explosive that was thrown at the vehicle left many casualties, but I do not know how many,” said Mohamoud Aden, said another local resident in the area which has been the scene of a number of ambushes of troops in recent days.

The exchanges dragged on for up to an hour before a joint force of government troops and Ethiopian soldiers brought the situation under control. In the second incident, gunmen raided a nearby police station in Huriwa neighbourhood, gunning down an officer and stealing three rifles.

Ethiopian troops and tanks then arrived, sealing off the area and searching houses for weapons. Parliament approved the imposition of martial law at the weekend, giving the security forces wide-ranging powers.

In a sign of the government’s willingness to flex its muscles, it ordered the Qatar-based satellite television network Al-Jazeera and Mogadishu radio stations Shabelle Radio, Radio HornAfrik and Voice of the Koran radio off the air.

The move drew immediate criticism but government spokesman Abduraman Dinari insisted the step was not aimed at curtailing freedom of speech. “Their coverage is instigating violence in Somalia,” he told Mogadishu’s Simba Radio, which was not hit by the order.

“We are not undermining the freedom of expression, we are ensuring the security of the Somali people. Efforts by the government to assert its authority have been met with scepticism in a country without effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre triggered incessant clashes between warlords.

Residents said the overnight fighting was the heaviest since the Islamists, which had managed to restore order during six months in control in Mogadishu, fled on December 28. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi wants to pull out his troops but only Uganda has so far volunteered soldiers for a prospective 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

Wary of becoming bogged down in a quagmire, Meles dispatched officials to 13 African states to seek support for the force and outline his reasons for the intervention. Leaders would be asked “to extend necessary support to make use of the good opportunity that would ensure peace and security in Somalia,” said a government statement. The transitional government was formed in Kenya in 2004 but was only able to go to Mogadishu when the Ethiopians intervened.

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